Since yoga in public schools would almost certainly not involve religious instruction or iconography, state/church watchdogs like the Freedom From Religion Foundation are not concerned about the new law. Millions of non-Hindu Americans practice yoga and understand how the practice could be calming and physically beneficial for kids. Teaching kids how to stretch and meditate neither coerces them into converting to Hinduism nor does it send a message that the school prefers Hinduism over other religions, or religion over nonreligion. In fact, the vast majority of yoga teachers in Alabama will almost certainly not even be Hindu.
But there are certain entities objecting to the yoga law: right-wing Christian advocacy groups. The same outfits that complain about how prayer was “removed from public schools” (private prayer wasn’t) and that argue the separation between state and church isn’t in the Constitution (it is) are hypocritically painting Alabama’s yoga law as a violation of the Establishment Clause. This confirms that these outfits are not really interested in religious liberty; actually they want Christianity to be taught in schools.
For example, Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Actions Program, has reportedly said of yoga: “It’s the Hindu religion. It’s an issue of separation of church and state.” Yet the group has also celebrated public school students receiving credit “to attend bible studies or other religious functions.”
The biggest show of sanctimoniousness, however, comes from the Foundation for Moral Law, the Christian nationalist organization founded by disgraced, failed Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court because he repeatedly used his position to promote Christianity. The group objects to public schools teaching yoga, but publicly supported a public school prayer practice that the U.S. Supreme Court held to be unconstitutional in 2000 and regularly defends the government promoting Christianity.
Such outfits have no credibility when they say that they aim to protect “religious liberty.” They only want the government to advance religion when it’s the “right” kind of Christianity (the kind that opposes LGBTQ rights and women’s health care). When it’s another perspective, they pretend to care about keeping state and church separate. This is naked Christian nationalism, and is antithetical to true religious liberty.
This is not the first time Christian nationalist groups that FFRF has defeated in court have argued that yoga in public schools is unconstitutional. In California nearly a decade ago, the Pacific Justice Institute unsuccessfully sued a school district on the same issue. The same Christian nationalist organization lost to FFRF while trying to defend blatantly sectarian Christian prayers at public school board meetings in the same state.
The hypocrisy of the Christian right continues unabated.