Halting Harassment: Public School Efforts To Protect Students Run Into Religious Right Bullies
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Nov 08, 2011 at 01:26:46 PM EST
Many public schools are finally taking an overdue look at the problem of bullying. A number of state legislatures have even weighed in to address the issue.

That's good news. After all, it's impossible for a young person to do well in school if he or she is being bullied or is worried about being bullied.

In Michigan, this issue has taken on special importance. A 14-year-old there named Matt Epling committed suicide in 2002 after relentless anti-gay bullying. Matt's family and friends lobbied the legislature to pass a law mandating that public schools establish policies protecting all students.

A bill did pass recently, a measure that is named for Epling - but it has a major flaw: It leaves school powerless to stop verbal bullying if such bullying is based on "a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."

This provision was slipped into the bill at the last minute by Republicans in the Michigan Senate. It amounts to a huge loophole. If you want to verbally harass a gay student in Michigan, all you have to do is cite the Book of Leviticus and you're good to go. You can also point to biblical passages to excuse your blasts against Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists, etc.

Blogging at The Washington Post, Brad Hirschfield was appalled. Hirschfield, a rabbi who is president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said Michigan lawmakers might have actually made things worse.

"In fact, the passage of this legislation may well set back the cause of protecting kids from their tormentors by moving the focus of attention from the damage bullies do, to legal wrangling about the religious and moral basis of their bullying," Hirschfield wrote. "Instead of addressing the damage done by bullies and legislating against it, this law incentivizes debate about bullies' intent and how they `justify' their actions against those they hate."

Dan Savage, a syndicated sex-advice columnist who runs a campaign aimed to help gay teens, also blasted the Michigan law.

"It's a law that specifically empowers students, teachers, administrators [and] principals to bully LGBT kids if they can point to a moral justification," Savage told ABC News.com. "You have a right to your own religious beliefs. You don't have a right to inflict your private moral judgments on those people in a place where you are a public servant and an employee of the state.... Michigan should be ashamed of itself."

Public outcry over the measure has led Republican legislators to begin talking about altering the law. Ari Adler, a spokesperson for Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, told the Detroit Free Press that Bolger is working on some changes that will "bring everyone to the middle of the road and provide protection to all students."

I'm not sure what that means. I do know that the law as it exists doesn't really address the bullying problem because it contains an easy out - "I sincerely believe my religion hates gay people, so I get to call this kid names all day!" A law this weak certainly doesn't honor the memory of Matt Epling.

Legislators need to summon up some gumption and stand up to Religious Right groups, some of which are so blinded with homophobia that they've joined the pro-bullying caucus.

Consider Tom McClusky, vice president of Government Affairs for the Family Research Council. When President Barack Obama expressed support for anti-bullying initiatives earlier this year, McClusky insisted that Obama seeks to force anti-gay students "in the closet."

As for Michigan, it's time to return to the drawing board. This time, instead of a compromise or an attempt to bring everyone to the middle of the road, how about a simple policy instead: Zero tolerance for bullies in school. If you bully a fellow student for any reason, you will get in trouble.




Display:
... for a First Amendment challenge to the Michigan bullying law, which appears to grant rights on the basis of the bully's religion for the bully to inflict harm in the name of that religion on another. I know that's along road to embark on to recall this abomination of a law, but it would be good to start loading the car for the trip.

by Khalila RedBird on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 01:29:12 PM EST

The chances for reversal of the law on First Amendment grounds have probably been substantially reduced by the Supreme Court decision in Snyder vs. Westboro Baptist. I wish it weren't so.

by MLouise on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 05:36:55 PM EST

Harassment, bullying, and abusive speech to someone on the basis of their religion is prohibited, because religion is protected as a "Charter Right" in Canada. I believe freedom of religion is also a protected right in the US, so I think this is different from a public demonstration, being in-person, on-line, and so forth. I believe that free speech in US schools and on school property is severely curtailed, because the teaching staff have responsibility as a parent while the student is there. Whether or not bullying is prosecutable, no school board should be without a strong anti-bullying program that includes bullying on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, or other gender issues, or the perception of such issues. We all have to work locally if such state-wide issues arise, and to make sure anti-bullying laws that are passed are really implemented. The vulnerable kids are not the ones who should have to speak out or have their parents make them move schools; other kids know what goes on and their parents, and people of faith can find out.

by arachne646 on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 03:47:07 PM EST

Jesus never quoted Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13. But he did quote Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Seems to me that those who want to counter this loophole, until such time as it gets closed, are equally entitled to use religion. Let us hope and pray that the loophole isn't open for long, nonetheless.

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 04:58:49 PM EST


WWW Talk To Action


Book Report: Yes, Politicians, We Know You Love The Bible. What Else Have You Read?
Real estate magnate Donald Trump says lots of outrageous stuff, but none of it seems to slow him down. His latest gaffe, however, ought......
By Rob Boston (3 comments)
American Renewal Project
On my journey to the American Renewal Project in Austin, Texas, I listened to hard right talk radio out of Houston.  There was an......
By wilkyjr (7 comments)
`Just Go Somewhere Else!': A Cavalier Dismissal Of A Serious Concern
A few years ago, I took part in a panel discussion on church-state issues at a Seventh-day Adventist church in Takoma Park, Md. During......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
John Dorhauer Puts Christian Right on Notice
Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer was a front pager here at Talk to Action years before he was elected General Minister and President of the......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Father Of Falsehoods: Why Ted Cruz's Dad Is Wrong About Prayer In Schools
Many misconceptions abound about the issue of prayer in schools, and some people persist in believing a lot of myths. One of the most......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
A Texas Size Conspiracy
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has recently been indicted by a grand jury for an illegal investment scheme.  He faces felony charges. Word has......
By wilkyjr (1 comment)
Are the Anti-Planned Parenthood Smear Videos... Investigative Journalism?
I have been glad to see journalism catching up with the anti-Planned Parenthood scam videos. From The Huffington Post to the New England Journal......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Liberty's Latest Ploy: What's Up With The Sanders Invite?
The announcement that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will speak at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Sept. 14 has left a lot of people......
By Rob Boston (4 comments)
Creeping Christian Rightism in the Democratic Party
The executive director of a DC group with deep roots in the Democratic faith outreach schemes of a decade ago, has a regular column......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Ghosts Over Mississippi
     Clinton, Mississippi is home to historic Mississippi College.  The Southern Baptist school is owned by the state Baptist convention in the Magnolia......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
The Cardinal's Gasbag: Catholic League Leader Rushes To Defend Dolan From AU Criticism
There is a thing called Godwin's Law on the internet. It holds that if an online argument goes on long enough, someone will drag......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
The Theocratic Politics of Raphael Cruz
"There's a relationship there that's unlike any in American history to my knowledge. We've just never seen anything remotely like this...   I believe......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
An Assassin's Motivation?
On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof quietly sat in the prayer meeting at African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina before he shot......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
Christian Right Turns to Nullification to Counter Marriage Equality
Last year in The Public Eye magazine, Rachel Tabachnick and Frank L. Cocozzelli warned of the trend on the religious and political Right toward......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Historian Gerald Horne on Charleston, Church, & Slave Resistance
Professor Gerald Horne of the University of Houston notes the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was at the center of Black resistance to slavery......
By Chip Berlet (1 comment)

Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (2 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (2 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (0 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (0 comments)
Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (1 comment)
Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (4 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (2 comments)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (1 comment)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (5 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (4 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (4 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (4 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.