Recently the Senate for the State of Michigan approved a bill that has been receiving a lot of press and was touted by Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D) as a "Republican license to bully":
Of all the organizations that I support, it came as a shock to me that the CATO Institute would actually speak out in favor of the amendment on which Sen. Whitmer and half the blogosphere is speaking. Neal McClusky wrote this:1
Similarly, Time columnist Amy Sullivan asks ”why does Michigan’s anti-bullying bill protect religious tormentors?”
I’ll tell you why: because as odious as one might find the religious beliefs of many people, they are entitled to freedom of speech the same as anyone else. That is a basic American right, and all the desire in the world to protect kids from hearing things that might make them feel badly must not change that.
The problem with this statement is that it does give, as Whitmer correctly called it, a "license to bully". It is one thing to say that homosexuals are going to spend eternity in Hell. It’s a whole other idea, however, to belittle and bully homosexuals in the name of your religion. Which do you think Senator Whitmer fears is protected by the Michigan anti-bullying bill?
It has been famously said that a person’s right to swing their fist ends at the other person’s nose. A person’s right to express their religion ends when that right is being used to oppress, belittle, demonize and terrorize others with whom you disagree.
The bill in question defines "bullying" as:
any written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication, by a pupil directed at 1 or more other pupils that is intended or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm 1 or more pupils either directly or indirectly by doing any of the following:
- Substantially interfering with educational opportunities, benefits, or programs of 1 or more pupils.
- Substantially and adversely affecting the ability of a pupil to participate in or benefit from the school district’s or public school’s educational programs or activities by placing the pupil in reasonable fear of physical harm.
- Having an actual and substantial detrimental effect on a pupil’s physical or mental health or causing substantial emotional distress.
- Causing substantial disruption in, or substantial interference with, the orderly operation of the school.
This is the exception that has been bringing such a major negative response:
This section does not abridge the rights under the First Amendment of the constitution of the United States or under article I of the state constitution of 1963 of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian. 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.
Anyone who knows the realities of bullying and how overstretched the Christian conservative interpretation of the First Amendment has become knows that this section essentially guts the protection of the bill from those whom the bill was intended to protect: homosexual teenagers. That is the reason I find the CATO Institute’s interpretation of this provision to be not only vapid, but incorrect. It would not surprise me the least if Neal McClusky has never experienced bullying. If he has not, he does not know the realities behind it.
Bullies play all kinds of tricks and say all kinds of things to keep things working in their favor. That is the reality of bullying. A bully who is backed by religious convictions has been handed a license by the above section. They will say or do whatever is necessary to turn the bullying into a war of words, essentially rendering it into a stalemate that will work out, ultimately, in the bully’s favor, meaning the problems will only continue and the school will be ultimately powerless, all in the name of an overstretched, tyrannical interpretation of the First Amendment.
This is rendered all the more astonishing by the one concept that has guided First Amendment jurisprudence at the Supreme Court: the captive audience. Students in public schools are captive individuals, there by mandate of law if their parents do not exercise any alternative options, if any exist. This means that students in a public school are the most vulnerable individuals because they have few, if any alternative options.
Knowing this it should be no surprise that many bullied homosexual teenagers have taken that ultimate of alternative options.
Religious freedom does not mean the freedom to be an ass in the name of your religion, to borrow on words my wife has used time and again. If you want to say homosexuals are going to hell, fine. If you want to say that the pregnant teenage moms are no better off because they had sex outside wedlock, fine. If you want to say that atheists (like yours truly) can never attain salvation, be my guest.
But the moment you start using that as a motivation for physical and mental torture of others who you feel are going to hell, then you’ve crossed the line.
McClusky’s article is an utter waste of CATO’s blog space, and his appeal to "education freedom" is a vapid response to the reality of bullying, especially bullying against homosexual teens in the name of Christianity.
I will conclude by reiterating what I posted to my Facebook wall.
Any person who would use force, intimidation, belittlement, or actual violence as part of "expressing" their religious beliefs deserves ridicule, contempt, and jail, not the protection of the State legislature. We talk all about the religiously-motivated terrorists from the Middle East but talk little about the religiously-motivated Christian terrorism going on in our own public schools under our own noses — and now with the sanction of the Michigan legislature.
- McClusky, Neal. (2011, November 4). "Indignant over Free Speech Trumping Bullying Protection? Support Choice". CATO@LIBERTY. [↩]