ActivismReligion

Michigan Protects Theists’ Right to Bully Gays

Michigan has finally passed anti-bullying legislation called Matt’s Safe School Law, named for a boy who committed suicide after anti-gay hazing. So why does the boy’s father, Kevin Epling, not support the legislation? Simple: Republicans introduced a provision that allows bullying in the case of religious or moral viewpoints. It also doesn’t mention anything about bullying for sexual orientation or gender identity.

All the Democrats voted against it, and Senator Gretchen Whitmore‘s outrage is a sight to behold:

“You may be able to pat yourselves on the back today and say that you did something, but in actuality you are explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying,” said Senator Whitmer. “As passed today, bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”

Want to get away with bullying your gay classmate into committing suicide? Don’t just call him a fag. Instead, tell him that God hates fags like him! Don’t tell your atheist neighbor that she’s a worthless bitch. Tell her that your priest says she’s morally bankrupt and will rot in hell for all of eternity. That way you’re covered.

Says Kevin Eppling:

I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a ‘bullying is OK in Michigan law.’

What a fine legacy Michigan Republicans have left for Matt Eppling.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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63 Comments

  1. Saw this yesterday. Do you think the people who voted this through are ignorant or just plain mean?
    A “moral” reason is so very ague, they may as well have not put the bill through at all. We need to test this bill by using the FSM religious text to irritate people with.
    Our republicans have become such fools….

  2. You’ve been duped America. Please wake up before it’s too late. Get these asshats out of office before they destroy the country.

    “When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
    ~ Sinclair Lewis

  3. It isn’t law, well at least not yet. It only passed in the Senate. And from the sounds of it the response to the passage in the senate has made it unlikely for the House to pass it as well with the House Majority leader speaking out against it.

    Unfortunately, since the republicans control the house as well it isn’t likely that the version of the bill coming from them will remove the language for religion exception. It is more likely to just die and not become law at all. Which is better than the senate version of the bill but a far cry than what is needed.

  4. Republicans added language that the policies would not prohibit “a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.” Because of this amendment, the bill needs to go back to the Michigan House of Representatives for approval. It’s not a law yet, so there’s still a chance that it could not get passed in it’s current form. Fortunately, there is a high amount of backlash for this tactic by the Michigan Senate GOP. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2011/11/michigans_bullying_bill_gets_n.html

    1. mrwilson41: “Because of this amendment, the bill needs to go back to the Michigan House of Representatives for approval.”

      It’s a Senate bill. It hasn’t been to the House at all yet.

      Now that it’s passed the Senate, it will be headed to the House, but for the first time.

  5. It always bothers me to see a story about a proposed law that doesn’t actually quote the proposed law. Or link to it. Or even provide the bill number for anyone who wants to look it up.

    Between Rebecca’s post, the Washington Post article, and the Detroit News article, the COMBINED direct information from the bill itself amounts to just seven quoted words: “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

    So I dug up the bill as passed by the state senate: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billengrossed/Senate/pdf/2011-SEBS-0137.pdf

    Full legislative history is at http://1.usa.gov/s0qMau

    Does it have an exemption for religious belief or moral conviction? Yes, at the top of page 6. Right after it ALSO states that the section doesn’t abridge First Amendment rights either. Which is a rather more sweeping exemption than just religion or morals.

    Does it not address bullying against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as the Post said? That’s true, but it doesn’t specifically address bullying based on ANY kind of pretext. Not race-based bullying, or sex-based bullying, or class-based bullying, or nerd-based bullying. So it’s not like sexual orientation or gender identity was left out of any sort of list.

    Frankly, I’d prefer my anti-bullying legislation not to specify which particular bully prejudices are covered. Because to single out certain types of bullying is certain to leave out other kinds. Does that mean the bill doesn’t ban big kids bullying smaller kids? Or bullying a kid with a cartoon lunch box? Or bullying a kid with a bad haircut or ugly clothes?

    That, I imagine, is why the bill includes language like this: “A PROVISION INDICATING THAT ALL PUPILS ARE PROTECTED UNDER THE POLICY AND THAT BULLYING IS EQUALLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT REGARD TO ITS SUBJECT MATTER OR MOTIVATING ANIMUS.” Singling out certain motivating animuses (animi?) doesn’t add anything, and arguably hurts.

    1. But when you include specific provisions about what kinds of bullying are “okay”, and have that provision built around “religious and moral conviction”, you ARE implicitly excluding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression from being protected, since bullying on those grounds is *always* “justified” by said “religious and moral convictions”. To imagine that that clause was about anything but is to have far too much faith in those who added it.

      1. natalie: “since bullying on those grounds is *always* “justified” by said “religious and moral convictions”.”

        No it’s not. Matt Epling, for instance, was physically assaulted, covered in syrup, and hit with eggs. Granted, I haven’t read any response from the bullies, but something tells me that their reasons were pretty far removed from “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” Nothing in this bill, exemptions included, would protect THAT kind of behavior.

        Because it’s incredibly overbroad to suggest that the statutory exemption makes sexual orientation bullying “always” okay. If you actually read the bill, it’s clearly far more limited an exemption than that:

        “THIS SECTION DOES NOT PROHIBIT A STATEMENT OF A SINCERELY HELD RELIGIOUS BELIEF OR MORAL CONVICTION OF A SCHOOL EMPLOYEE, SCHOOL VOLUNTEER, PUPIL, OR A PUPIL’S PARENT OR GUARDIAN.”

        “Does not prohibit a STATEMENT.” So it creates a terribly incorrect perception of the bill to suggest that the bill simply carte blanche “allows bullying.”

        And don’t imagine that the mere existence of the exemption somehow swallows the overall bullying rule. You have a constitutional right to free speech, but that doesn’t extend to outright harassment, which is still a crime. I see the same principle in operation here. Students have a right to express sincere religious opinions, and the bill protects that; but that protection doesn’t extend to harassing their classmates.

        natalie: “To imagine that that clause was about anything but is to have far too much faith in those who added it.”

        Then what should I assume was the sinister intent behind adding the First Amendment/free speech exemption? Again, that’s a far broader exemption than religion, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that it’s somehow designed with a particular group in mind.

        1. To be frank, that the exemption was added with a particular group in mind is EXACTLY what I’m saying.

          A “statement” based in religious or moral conviction could include, “Hey faggot you’re going to burn in hell for sucking cock”. And yes, this exemption clause will be used to permit exactly those kinds of statements. And I believe that is the intent of adding it.

          Constitutional free speech is a higher precedent than state law. Saying that adding this exemption is just about maintaining that… well, it’s like adding an exemption that says “by the way, the constitution still counts”. It’s silly. This is about far more than that. It’s about saying what kinds of bullying are permissible and what kinds aren’t, and apparently, religion once again gets special privileges to be a bully.

          As for whether or not Matt’s bullies were doing what they did out of “moral conviction”… well that doesn’t matter in the slightest. I STRONGLY doubt that ANY of the anti-LGBT prejudice we see in our culture is genuinely based on religious/moral convictions. I think it’s almost entirely based on fear, misunderstanding, discomfort and hatred…though they may convince themselves that it’s a moral thing, it’s not. Not really. But nonetheless “religious and moral convictions” are always used as the justification for such discrimination after the fact. Gay panic, trans panic, the moral breakdown of America, the Bible, blah blah blah.

        2. Okay.

          The exemption for the First Amendment is NOT broader than the exemption for religious statements. It is acceptable under the First Amendment to pass laws that prohibit religious practices so long as those laws are neutral with respect to religion and generally applicable.

          Basically, without the amendment, the law would prohibit all forms of bullying in a neutral way. With the amendment, it would prohibit all forms of bullying that do not constitute a “statement of sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” It’s taking a neutral law and giving religious speech special treatment.

          Obviously this amendment would not permit conduct like physical assault, but of course physical assault was ALREADY ILLEGAL. The whole point of the law is to prohibit the kind of bullying that acts as a precursor to physical assault or would otherwise not fall within the purview of other laws, and to ensure that bullying itself is treated in a way that is appropriate to the special nature of bullying. Now it does that except when the bullying takes the form of a statement of religious or moral belief. Without a doubt, the statement “God hates fags like you” would have been prohibited without the amendment, and is not prohibited with it.

          This amendment was certainly passed to avoid the stigma of “political correctness” that tends to accompany anti-bullying statutes. Many religious people believe that the real purpose of these laws is to attack religion by adopting a statewide policy of punishing its beliefs that do not adhere to the standards of political correctness. What this ignores is that those beliefs and there expression is always permissible, SO LONG AS IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE BULLYING.

          It is actually pretty depressing. At least it’s not law yet, and hopefully that amendment doesn’t make it into the final version.

      2. I think that what the exception is doing or may be attempting to do is to ensure that things that are not bullying are not subsumed within the proscription on bullying.

        I think in school there may be a time when open discussions of various issues of the day. Let’s say – Prop 8 in California and a Civics or government class, or a history class. Maybe one student says, “I’m in favor of Prop 8.” The teacher responds, “O.k., why?” Student: “Well, I’m an Orthodox Jew, and for my worldview homosexuality is a sin against God and nature, and I therefore oppose homosexual marriage.” Or, maybe “I’m a fundamentalist Christian, and I think that all those who are homosexuals are going to burn in hell for all eternity after death.”

        Is that “bullying?”

        I don’t think so. And, I think that is what the exception seems designed to protect. We enter into a very dicey area when we start precluding such expressions of opinion because someone feels bad about them.

    1. It is certainly o.k. for atheists to call Christians evil douchebags. Words to that effect are uttered all over the internet and in many debates that we’ve all heard with prominent atheists in the world.

      Is it o.k. in school? I think that in the context of the expression of a statement of a sincerely held belief – say, for example, in a class discussion about philosophy or civics or something – if an atheist student says, “I think Christians work great evil in the world, and that Christianity is evil” or such words ought not be considered bullying.

      Pointing one’s finger in a Christian’s face and shouting “fuck you, Christian assclown! You are an evil douchebag! You are an evil douchebag!” over and over again – well, that’s more like bullying.

      One of the big problems with a law like this is that bullying is difficult to define out of context, and the ones that can best make the determination about whether something is or is not bullying are the school officials and the teachers – those administrators on the scene. To try to outline in advance everything that is and is not bullying is quite difficult.

      However, the expression of offensive opinions, in my view, can never be considered bullying, or ought not to be, that is. Or, you’ll find that with the Christian majority in the US, the mere expression of atheistic views will be turned around on you, and such views would be considered “bullying” of Christians. It will be a “be careful what you wish for” thing – what will the school board in Texas, which wants to teach Creationism, say about an atheist student who says, “The Christian religion is a book of fairy tales, and anyone who believes in it is a gullible rube.” Bullying? Or, not bullying? Prohibited speech?

  6. I can’t believe they’d have the audacity to attach Matt Epling’s name to something like this, and do it on “his behalf”. It’s disgusting. It’s bad enough how frequently kids are bullied into suicide just for being who they are… but to shame their memory by manipulating it for justifying and perpetuating the same attitudes that killed him? This isn’t going to be one of my optimistic days.

  7. Bullying is complete and utter bullshit but the only kind of bullying that should be prohibited through legislation is any bullying that includes threats or physical violence. Everything else is protected by the 1st amendment.

    Kids need to be taught to ignore bullying. That’s really the only way to deal with it. When I was in high school the school bully ended up killing himself over the summer one year. Kids who bully need counseling and kids who are bullied need support.

    1. Such constitutional rights needn’t be extended to children in schools. We don’t, after all, say that 13 year olds should get to take their Glocks to history class because of the 2nd amendment, do we?

      Free speech must always be weighed against other considerations.

      Anti-bullying legislation is not an infringement of the bully’s rights to anywhere NEAR the degree that homophobic/transphobic bullying is an infringement of the rights of LGBT youth.

      I really don’t find the “just deal with it” / “get over it” / “don’t let it get to you” arguments to be all that compelling. It doesn’t matter how much a gay teenager may believe that he has the right to be who he is, and how little value he actually lends to the opinions of those who harass him, it’s STILL going to hurt, and cut into him, and make his life miserable. Sometimes too much to bear. “Ignore it” is extremely easy to say when you’re not the one receiving the harassment. But it’s almost impossible to do when you are.

      Trust me.

      Are some bullies emotionally distressed and in need of counselling? Sure. Absolutely. And we should be reaching out to them. One thing I’ve learned is that the people who are dishing out the most hatred (and definitely when it’s on the basis of things like gender and sexuality) are dishing out that same hatred on themselves. The guys who’s conceptions of masculinity are so incredibly harsh that they feel threatened by gay or effeminate guys, or mtf-spectrum trans people, and need to lash out at them, are also trapped in a tiny little closed-in gender hell of their own. The guys who lash out at women on the internet and threatening to rape them or who are feel so threatened by feminism that they constantly seek out and troll feminist blogs, those guys are filled with frustration and fear and desperation and a sense of powerlessness.

      I empathize. But that doesn’t for one moment change my feelings that such behaviours need to be stopped. ESPECIALLY amongst youth, who are extremely emotionally vulnerable and just don’t yet have the ability to ignore it or get over it or not let it get to them.

      This isn’t an abstract issue of freedoms and ideals. This is a real, actual problem. LGBT kids are dying. Actual children are ACTUALLY DYING. We need to address this. We need solutions. These kids deserve a world where they feel loved and valued, and aren’t taught to hate themselves for who they are. I want a better world for the next generation of LGBT kids than the one I had, and I’m willing to fight for that.

      1. As soon as you start allowing restrictions to speech you’re headed down the slippery slope. If you and the majority have decided that some forms of speech should be restricted what happens the next election when a different majority decides to restrict speech that you engage in. I’m an absolutist on the 1st amendment. The only speech that should be restricted should be any speech that creates an imminent threat.

        The 2nd amendment is not equivalent to the 1st. If I had my way all guns would be banned.

        1. Death threats? Libel and slander? Outing people? Other invasions of privacy? Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater? False advertising? Scams? Claiming that your herbal supplement has medical abilities it doesn’t have?

          Etc?

          We ALL, as a society, have decided that there are occasions where free speech MUST be weighed against other considerations and occasional limits imposed. Absolutism with “free speech” is a terrible idea, and just doesn’t work.

          Also, the rights we apply to adults needn’t be the rights we apply to children. And the rights we maintain in the public sphere are not necessarily the rights we need to maintain in particular settings and institutions.

          Freedom of speech is about maintaining a free and open discourse. It is NOT about protecting bullies.

          “Slippery slope”? The slope is just as slippery in the other direction. I see no reason why we can’t evaluate such considerations on a case by case basis. We grant value to the importance of free speech (particularly in terms where it’s actual value and importance lies, not just as an ideal), and then weigh that against the other issues.

          As I said, the infringement of the free speech rights of the bullies is outweighed by the degree to which they are infringing upon the rights of LGBT youth.

          If you want to ban guns, then you don’t think the constitution has some magical transcendent moral worth, right? So why the absolutist approach to the first amendment?

          The “rights” of the bullies to say whatever they want, no matter how it effects other people, is ABSOLUTELY something I am willing to sacrifice in the name of creating a safer world for LGBT kids.

          To be honest, I think “free speech” gets thrown around entirely too often, and entirely too casually, in internet discussions of bullying and trolling and people being total jerks. At this point, it’s just beginning to sound hollow and meaningless to me, like the “just ignore it” arguments. And it sort of even devalues the ACTUAL value of free speech amendments, and what they’re meant to protect. (hint: the point isn’t protecting people’s “right” to treat each other like garbage, or protecting the “right” of the privileged to harass, demonize and shame the disadvantaged)

          And I DEFINITELY don’t think “religious conviction” is something that deserves special privileges and protections.

        2. P.S.

          The recent epidemic of LGBT teen suicides is a problem that deserves a solution. An actual solution. Just saying “this is terrible and tragic, tsk tsk” or “From now on, we promise we’ll do better!” is NOT an adequate solution. If we continue operating as we have been, things will keep going the way they’ve been going. And I just don’t trust the cis/straight world (as a whole) to make the necessary effort on our behalf if there isn’t any kind of push or real action.

        3. P.P.S.

          There’s also a degree to which I find that “free speech” / “just ignore it” arguments get used to trivialize genuine issues and concerns. That’s bad enough when we’re talking about anti-feminist, MRA trolls sending rape threats to bloggers, but I find it particularly upsetting when we’re discussing a “real world” issue that has actually resulted in the deaths of numerous innocent kids. It trivializes extreme, real, genuine suffering, that led innocent kids like Matt Epling to take their own lives, in the name of abstract ideals.

          And the idea that anti-bullying-in-schools legislation is going to somehow open the door to a tyrannical, fascist dystopia where dissidents get carted off to the gulag for expressing the wrong opinion is just silly.

          Tbh, unless someone sincerely considers something a genuine threat to the free, open exchange of ideas (not insults or threats…IDEAS) in the public sphere, I’d really rather not see “free speech” used on the internet as a defense of cruelty, harrassment or crotchiness ever again.

    2. “…the only kind of bullying that should be prohibited through legislation is any bullying that includes threats or physical violence. Everything else is protected by the 1st amendment.”

      That totally makes sense.

      That’s why I teach my children to walk into their classrooms every morning and tell the teachers there to shove all that homework right up their asses.

      And they better not punish my kid in the name of “classroom decorum”, because that’s violating his First Amendment rights.

  8. I am so incredibly sick of hearing the tired old chestnuts of “just ignore it/let it go/punch them in the face and they’ll stop” when it comes to kids being bullied.

    First of all, it presumes entirely too much about the situation that we may not know everything about. If it’s a light/low level “hurhur yer momma dresses you funny” bully, yeah, maybe a kid could say “whatever” and keep on trucking, but it’s a completely different ball game when several kids are giving you shit each and every day because of something about you that you can’t change. That shit is hard, especially as a kid when you’re just learning about how to deal with the world. It’s far to easy to look back in hindsight with out adult minds and just go “well, why don’t you ignore it?”

    Also, and I’m going against the advice of my own mother when I was little, fighting a bully isn’t always the solution. This isn’t a movie or “special episode” of a sitcom where the skinny little geek gets a lucky punch in and the bully doesn’t glance at them anymore. Fights are dirty and can be fatal or with permanent damage to either combatant, and nothing good comes out of any possible grudges if the bullied gets lucky. What would we say if the bully comes after this kid again with friends? What do we say if the bully comes after this kid with a weapon?

    It’s leaving kids out to dry, especially since we has adults have better ways to deal with this stuff in our own lives. If someone calls me a “nappy headed n**gger” at my job, I can file a complaint. If it’s a reoccurring thing, I can see them fired or file a hefty lawsuit. Why wouldn’t I have a similar option if I were 14 and a schoolmate called me such?

    If someone is harassing me at work, in my home, on the street, I have recourse. I can call the cops, I can file a complaint at work (it might not stop the idiot, but it’s SOMETHING). If someone actually assaults me, I have the same recourse. We need to either apply the laws we’ve already got against assault and harassment between kids, or support better laws – which this one sure isn’t and I really wish the family could get their poor son’s name off it.

    (And another thing, why my heart goes out to bullies who are just lashing out because of their own abuse or bullying or whatever, telling their victim to just “ignore it” isn’t getting them any help either)

    1. I agree with all of that. +1

      The “Hey, nice haircut, Blumenschine. Did your MOM cut it for you?” isn’t the kind of bullying we’re trying to address here. We’re trying to address the consistent, day-to-day, vicious, hate-speech bullying on the basis of things that are an essential aspect of the target’s being. The kind that drives kids to suicide. And specifically, this is in response to the emerging (or perhaps just now coming to light) epidemic of LGBT youth, *specifically*, being targeted by such bullying and often being killed. The exemption writes in a loophole for EXACTLY that kind of abuse. “Just ignore it” is NOT enough. It does not solve the problem, and if that’s the best solution we have, kids are going to go right on dying. It’s also a really good point about how we, as adults, have MANY more options in terms of dealing with bullies than kids do. And we ALSO have more experience, more emotional maturity, thicker skin, less vulnerability. Remember how as a kid, *everything*, even getting a D on your chem final, felt like it was the end of the world? And you’d spend your afternoon crying into your pillow just because a boy you liked said he didn’t like your backpack? Imagine that kind of sensitivity, and then going to school and each and every day you had a pack of kids swooping down on you and telling you that you were a hateful, abominable, disgusting, queer, freak and that you were going to get AIDS and go to Hell. Yeah… “ignore it”… right.

    2. When I was a skinny little jr. high geek (you would never know it to look at me today), I accidentally clobbered one of the bullies who harassed me daily during recess. One of them was poking at me and I put up my right arm defensively. Another one attempted to hit me on the left side and I spun around to avoid it and clocked a 3rd one in the jaw. My immediate thought was “Oh no, now they’re going to kill me”, but instead they were all “What did you hit Muskie for?” (That was his nickname, short for muskrat, I think.) “He doesn’t pick on you nearly as much as the rest of us.” They seemed to think it was highly unfair of me to strike back at one of the “innocent” bullies. I tried to explain it was completely by accident, but they weren’t buying. For the next week I was dreading school, sure that they would try to get me somewhere alone and out of sight and beat the crap out of me, but they left me alone after that.

      I think I was incredibly lucky. I don’t think, accidentally or deliberately, this was a good strategy. Even if it is true that all bullies are cowards, when they have a 5 or 6 to 1 advantage, they probably won’t be intimidated.

      One of the worst things they accomplished was when they went after someone else, I was just happy and relieved it wasn’t me. Kind of like Winston Smith telling his torturers to put the rat cage on Julia’s face instead of his.

      As for hate speech, most of what they did didn’t rise to that level. It was much more subtle intimidation, poking and tripping and demanding that I “lend” them my lunch money. Lots of implausible deniability.

      Niki and Natalie, I’m totally with you. I’m sure you received much worse.

  9. The Detroit News has an editorial on the bullying legislation:

    http://www.detnews.com/article/20111107/OPINION01/111070320/1008/opinion01/Editorial–Revise-proposed-anti-bullying-bill

    In one respect, they wholeheartedly agree with something I wrote above, saying:

    “Democrats in the Senate spent some time decrying the fact that the bill didn’t name specific categories of students for particular protection in the bill, but Republicans were right to resist that demand. The law should protect people equally regardless of their individual characteristics.”

    With regards to the religion dispute, they write that the Michigan ACLU has suggested a compromise, that the bill should simply include this one-sentence statement: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to abridge the rights of students or school employees that are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

    Thus, both the free speech and freedom of religion aspects are covered. And it’s a compromise that sounds good to my ears. So I’m with the ACLU on this; anyone care to disagree?

    1. “Nothing in this section shall be construed to abridge the rights of students or school employees that are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

      Since you have a Constitution and laws are not allowed to violate that Constitution, why on earth would you need to add this clause?

      Besides which, there are all sorts of restrictions on free speech in schools. A student who repeatedly speaks out of turn is bound to be punished. A student who speaks abusively towards other students should also be punished. Or should we permit students to shout racial, sexist and other epithets at will in the name of the 1st Amendment?

      1. “Since you have a Constitution and laws are not allowed to violate that Constitution, why on earth would you need to add this clause?”

        Because without it, the anti-bullying law could potentially be found to be unconstitutionally broad. If a student were to be punished for speech that was ultimately found to be Constitutionally protected, the law could be stricken down as unconstitutional.

        And then Michigan has to pass a whole NEW anti-bullying law.

        As a point of comparison, take California. Their protection of students’ Constitutional rights isn’t in the bullying statute itself, but a statute unto itself: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/cacode/EDC/2/d4/27/6/3/s48950

        “Or should we permit students to shout racial, sexist and other epithets at will in the name of the 1st Amendment?”

        No we shouldn’t, and nothing in the bill would permit them to do so. Protecting sincere religious expression does not suddenly permit obscenity-laden screaming in school.

        1. “Because without it, the anti-bullying law could potentially be found to be unconstitutionally broad. If a student were to be punished for speech that was ultimately found to be Constitutionally protected, the law could be stricken down as unconstitutional.”

          That’s a weird way to go about doing laws, but alright. You have to say “don’t break the constitution” in your law, otherwise the law could be thrown out. Alright …

          But your freedom of speech is still very strictly limited in a school setting anyway. There are all sorts of things you could say that would be fine out on the street in front of the school, but are unacceptable once in the classroom.

          This is just one more limitation: you can’t act abusively towards other students.

          1. It’s to protect the law from being thrown out by a court which finds that it is “overly broad” or “vague” on its face. That is, if the language is broad or vague enough to include expression that is protected by the first amendment, a court may say that the law is unconstitutional as written, and throw it out the window.

            If you add the qualifying provision “nothing herein is to be construed so as to violate the constitution,” then a court is more likely to, instead of throwing out the whole statute, give guidance to the authorities and say, “what bullying means is this….” and sort of edit the law to make sure it is interpreted in conformity with the constitution.

  10. I’m not in any way supporting the additional language in the bill. I believe schools should have strict policies against bullying for any reason – race, religion, gender, orientation, money, looks, whatever…

    But something @natalie1984 said caught my attention and reminded me of my own experiences as a youngish child with antisemitism.

    @natalie1984 [A “statement” based in religious or moral conviction could include, “Hey faggot you’re going to burn in hell for sucking cock”. And yes, this exemption clause will be used to permit exactly those kinds of statements. And I believe that is the intent of adding it.]

    To me this is hate speech. Would it still be bullying if they said – I believe you are going to go to hell for engaging in homosexual activity? At 10 I remember being told by classmates that I would go to hell because I wasn’t Christian. I didn’t find that bullying. But I also recall being told by someone else I would go to hell because I was a dirty Jew and/or Kike – that I found abusive and bullying. One felt threatening and the other did not.

    The hate language would immediately elevate it to bullying because it sends a hostile and intimidating message. But they other seemed more like an expression of sincere belief. I didn’t find it offensive. Stupid and irrational, but not offensive. Now if the comments, even if not tainted by hate language, are pervasive, I see it becoming an issue. I can see wanting to put language in an ant-bullying legislation to help protect open and dialog, but this clearly wasn’t the way to do it…

    1. But the clause is specifically excusing bullying (i.e. things that would be aggressive, hostile, potentially “hate speech”) just as long as it is based on said “religious/moral convictions”. There’s no additional sentence about the religious/moral statement needing to be phrased in a delicate way. So the “dirty k**e you’re going to hell” comments could still, potentially, be excused by the clause.

      1. @Natalie1984 Absolutely, and I agree the part about religious or moral conviction should be removed or re-framed, for that very reason. Hate speech should never be acceptable. I was more posing a question about the boundaries of harassment, something I give much thought to as an HR Professional and parent… Your comment just made me stop and think – not at all disagreeing or being critical…

    1. Defending the right of free speech is now a GOP evil? Tell that to the ACLU and National Public Radio….

      Several news and civil rights organizations filed amicus briefs in support of Phelps, including the American Civil Liberties Union,[20] the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and twenty one other media organizations, including National Public Radio, Bloomberg L.P., the Associated Press, the Newspaper Association of America, and others. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snyder_v._Phelps

  11. A nice discussion. I find myself siding with Natalie’s viewpoint, but Loren also seems quite sincere and raises soom important points. What surprised me is that no one mentioned the practical aspect of defining what exactly constitutes religion or morality for the purpose of enforcing this legislation.

    You know, Republicans lately have been bending over backwards to prevent the introduction of “Sharia Law” into our courtrooms, halls of government – and schools. Now wouldn’t it just be deliciously ironic if this anti-bullying law actually passes – and Muslim students are as entitled by law to express religious bigotry as Christian students are.

    Also, what about Black Liberation Theology – which scares the beejeebers out of Republicans? Or Wicca? How about Flying Spaghetti Monsterism? Guys, if you’re going to protect what is essentially hate speech under the guise of standing up for constitutionally protected rights, then, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

  12. Hmm. I think that all bullying (currently) needs to be outlawed, but that the fact that bullying is so prevalent shows a major flaw in the socialization of our student-aged individuals.

    Furthermore, this whole situation reminds me a little of the controversy over whether or not pharmacists have the choice to refuse to sell certain drugs to individuals because there are moral implications.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-04-07-birth_control_religion_06_ST_N.htm

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that our nation (I know, a generalized statement that simply smears frosting over a complicated situation–sorry) needs to reassess morality, how we view it, and how we transmit it, which was an original point by a few members earlier. Leaving it up to busy parents and our clergy doesn’t seem to be working. And constantly relying on the government to create laws/rules that keep people from behaving like neanderthals doesn’t seem to be working much, either. It also reinforces the theory that we are not evolving, emotionally speaking, and incapable of making moral decisions on our own.

  13. Read the actual bill. Sounds like an escape clause to me.

    I don’t read it as an OK for pupils to harass one another.

    It is allowing for; the christian student to say, “love the sinner not the sin”, the vegan student to say, “meat is murder”, the homosexual student to say, “we are what we are”, the wiccan to say, “abracadabra”, the skinheads to say, “I am pure”, the black panther to say, “Plymouth rock landed on us”, the muslim student to say, “everyday is a jihad”, the atheist to say, “damn it I’m not a nihilist”, the 99%er to say, “I hate McDonalds but love their hamburgers”, the tea partier to say, “My grandma was right”, the feminists to say,”men suck, women reign”, the chauvinists to say, “feminists have it backwards”

    and the teacher/principle to say, “I give up”

    Ugh, it’s all sensationalistic b.s. Thanks Michigan you have my whining about the whiners, whining about the whiners.

    1. Except most of those statements would NEVER be considered bullying or harassment in the first place. “We are what we are”, for example, says nothing about anyone else.

      And if you think “men suck, women reign” is a typical feminist message, you could benefit from a bit more reading on the subject.

  14. well er um, I think “men suck, women reign” is as typical a feminist message as “abracadabra” is to wiccans. I was being a sarcastic jerk to make the point that this whole Michigan legislation and the ensuing sensationalism is nothing but a waste of time and money.

    Most people know bullying is wrong and don’t need a law to force them into doing the right thing. I am kind of sick of people telling me that: 1. I’m not smart enough to know wrong from right. 2. Politicians are smarter than me and always looking out for my welfare. and 3. If I don’t like that #2 that uniform thugs with firearms, pepper spray or tasers will take me into forced custody for the betterment of the public good.

    1. MAYBE most (or many) people know that bullying is wrong and don’t need a law telling them that.

      But apparently far too many people DON’T know that. Or don’t know how to stop themselves. Or can’t tell the difference between what is and isn’t bullying. Or just don’t care.

      See, this law isn’t being made for no reason. It’s in response to actual events. I’d love to believe we live in a world where it isn’t necessary, but… it seems pretty obvious that we don’t.

      1. Murder is wrong. Most people don’t need a law telling them that. So why is there a law against murder? Oh, yeah, because it happens and you can’t just throw people in jail or fine them or do anything else to them for doing something unless there is an actual written law against it , and not just moral hand-wringing by the people who say “Why are you infringing on my liberties? *I* would never do something like that!”

        1. BINGO!

          Next person to spout some melodramatic nonsense about how this an Orwellian trampling of one’s fundamental liberty to be a heartless, cruel, uncaring bigot and drive innocent kids to suicide gets my death stare. And I’ll be e-mailing a screen cap directly to Santa.

          1. I just got an e-mail from Barbara Mikulski (fund-raising for Emily’s List) that starts out:

            “Handwringing is not a strategy, fighting back is.”

            She must read Skepchick :-)

          2. I don’t think that the concern that a law may be written so broadly as to improperly subsume within it protected speech is the same thing as saying that bullying is a constitutional right. Is it?

            I mean – most people agree that bullying is wrong. The question is – are their offensive expressions that aren’t bullying? I think that most of us also agree to that.

  15. I’ll keep saying this until I’m blue in the face probably, but this is yet another example of why skepticism and public policy don’t mix – especially on controversial topics.

    I see Loren has admirably explained, and linked to, the actual text of the law. Unlike Rebecca, he brought actual evidence to the debate and not just partisan political spin.

    But I want to comment on two things commenters have said, not Rebecca’s post or the law itself. The first is the Sinclair Lewis quote about fascism, and the second is the discussion on “hate speech”.

    Appearing in the same comment thread and taken together the two are ironically juxtaposed, because “hate speech” is a particularly insidious form of smiley faced fascism coming exclusively from the left side of the political spectrum.

    Hate speech laws are unconstitutional in the United States (unless the speech violates the exceptions already carved out by court precedent). Not only are hate speech laws not a good idea, they’re illegal. Why?

    Because the first amendment exists *precisely* in order to protect speech we find offensive. Once you start banning offensive speech, where do you stop? Re-read 1984. Orwell goes a long way down that slipperly slope. He finds people on the left with as many, or more, fascistic tendencies than the people on the right which so concern the commenters here.

      1. Think Newspeak, not Ingsoc.

        And I think you’re missing my fundamental point, a narrow public policy/constitutional point: not everything which is wrong should be illegal. In fact, specific things which may be very very wrong – well discussed in the comments here, i.e. speech – should be vigorously protected by the law.

        ‘Outcry’ against bullying is fine. ‘Outcry’ against protecting someone’s constitutional right to be an asshole is not.

        1. Ok, Newspeak then. Though I believe Orwell’s point was that words are intertwined with society’s values, not that you need to defend every word there is. 1984 would’ve lost a lot of value in my eyes if it made such a hoo-ha about giving up the word “faggot.”

          A note on “offensive”: Gay people kissing in public is offensive, women breastfeeding in public is offensive, a dude saying he *personally* doesn’t believe in God is offensive. These are things which people don’t like being exposed to because it clashes with their preferences. These are “offensive” things which you shouldn’t ban. Note how these “offensive” things do not make the offended feel sub-human. When one weighs up the utilities of people committing the act vs. people not having to be exposed to the act, the former is favoured. That’s what freedom is about – not confusing personal preferences with humanity.

          “Once you start banning offensive speech, where do you stop? Re-read 1984.”
          I mean, I thought it over, and I kind of still want a step-by-step. I just really don’t see it.

          1. I’ll admit the connection may be a little tenuous but I’ll lay out my thought process. Note also that we’re on a tangent here, my point related only to a few comments on ‘hate speech’ and the first amendment.

            The idea behind Orwellian ‘newspeak’ was to make alternative thinking – thoughts which weren’t sanctioned by the state – impossible by removing words which describe those alternate ideas. The newspeak dictionary is very small as a result of the ‘destruction’ of those words.

            Freedom of speech as written in the first amendment and interpreted by the courts, has the opposite effect. Except for very narrow exclusions, all words are legal and as a result all thoughts are legal.

            On our current topic, we can agree that someone saying ‘you’re going to burn in hell faggot’ is offensive. It is clearly legal under the first amendment, but lets waive that for a moment.

            Because current cultural norms say that sentence is offensive (which hasn’t always been the case), we decide to make it illegal. Therefore the thought behind that sentence – homosexuality is an offense against God – starts to go away. While technically you can never make a thought illegal (how would you police that?), Orwell’s point was that if you make the expression of a thought illegal then the thought will eventually die.

            Now the above thought is one which should die in my opinion, but many others hold a contrary view. They either have a right to express their thoughts or they don’t. If they don’t have that right (and we’ve repealed the first amendment for our purposes) then what other thoughts can they no longer express?

            Racist thoughts – need to die. Sexist – ditto. Anti-environmentalist, anti-government, capitalist, democratic, abortion…etc.

            Once you start going down that road its hard to stop, and someone has to decide what are the ‘correct’ thoughts. You ask a Democrat or a Republican and you’ll get two different answers.

            Which is why the only viable solution is to make all words and thoughts (except for narrow exceptions) legal.

            Long answer to a short question…

          2. But this isn’t making any specific terms or language illegal in any broad sense. It’s restricting the use of language for overt harassment in specific settings (schools). No particular thought or expression is being banned, only particular hostile modes of expression (and again, only in particular settings).

  16. I have always thought that in a school, dealing with children, that there isn’t or shouldn’t be much of a first amendment right to begin with. Teachers can and should be able to tell kids to keep quiet in school 98% of the time — during class – walking the halls – etc. Otherwise, how would kids be able to learn? It would be a cacophony of kids exercising their “freedom of speech” to shout and tease and giggle and laugh and joke or whatever.

    So, the rule really ought to be “no kid can pick on another kid, and that includes any sort of protected religious or any other kind of speech.” So, there should be no exception for religious speech IN SCHOOL – if a Christian kid thinks all gays are going to hell, that’s his right to think that, and he can march down the street with signs exclaiming it – but, school isn’t the place to say that — it’s not any more of a place to say that than it is a place to say “blacks were cursed by god” (which is something Christians also used to think…)

    Outside of school, however, the issue becomes more complicated. The key to these laws is to be very careful in defining what speech is prohibited. Simply outlawing “bullying” is too vague.

    The ACLU defended the American Nazi Party’s right to free speech in the American Nazi Party vs. Skokie, Illinois case, and that speech included the right to shout anti-semitic, anti-gay, anti-catholic, and other racist and ethnocentric verbiage in public. The ACLU prevailed on behalf of the ANP, and the right to voice the opinion that Jews, gays, blacks and Catholics are the lowest forms of life was successfully defended….

    Did the ACLU defend “bullying?” Or, did they defend free expression?

    In the US, people have a constitutional right to express racist, homophobic, ethnocentric, and other unpopular and even evil views in public. Even pedophiles have a constitutional right to express the opinion that sex with children is a good thing, etc. (and that’s why the ACLU defended NAMBLA too).

    There are, however, time-place-and-manner restrictions always in place. You can say what you want, but not on my property. You can say what you want, but not in court, or at the Division of Motor Vehicles. I would submit that in school, the administrators need to keep order, and kids need to shut up and behave. There ought not be a religious exception to that.

  17. The <a href=”http://www.buckfirelaw.com/”>Michigan personal injury lawyers</a> of Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. created a student bullying infographic and are re-releasing it in honor of International STAND UP to Bullying day. The graphic is a visual representation that quickly and clearly identifies facts and statistics of how serious and prevalent student bullying is in our U.S. school systems. To view the “Student Bullying in the United States Statistics and Facts” infographic visit http://www.BuckfireLaw.com
     

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