Anti-bullying bill more harmful than helpful
In light of the disturbingly high number of recent teen suicides — many being members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) community — the state of Michigan has finally passed a bill that would force all schools to develop anti-bullying policies, ensuring the protection of children who are victimized.
The law was given the name “Matt’s safe school law” after East Lansing’s Matt Epling who ended his life after years of abuse at the hands of his peers.
Problematically, shortly before the passing of the bill, state senate Republicans tacked on a statement that bullying based on “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil or a pupil’s parent or guardian” was to be an exception to these anti-bullying policies.
This statement assures that LGBTQ students will still be denied protection by their schools.
The Republican state legislature has stated that they are looking to find a middle ground that does not “enumerate specific groups for extra protection,” but also a bill that “would [not] provide an excuse for someone to bully someone else.”
When will Republicans and other anti-gay groups accept that providing the LGBTQ community with the rights to not walk out their doors and be harassed is not “extra protection?”
Additionally, it is not ridiculous to say that the LGBTQ community is in need of extra protection as long as there is extra ammunition against them. The Bible cannot be used as a baby blanket to justify picking on a child for having acne, wearing hand-me-down clothes or being poor, but some Christians — those who clearly don’t model themselves after Christ himself — use it as a baby blanket to justify homophobia.
Sometimes, extra protection is necessary.
In their tweaking of this once well-intentioned bill, the Republicans have done exactly what they claim to be against and have provided students excuses to torment peers who happen to be part of the LGBTQ community or have parents who are part of that community.
They have also inadvertently enumerated a specific group for extra protection — religious students (though one has to wonder to what extent Republicans would want this law to protect, say, Muslim students.)
The religious right often attempts to paint itself as a persecuted minority, specifically when it comes to in-school politics. Outrageous and most likely exaggerated claims have been made that schools allow students of non-Christian religions to pray in school, but outright punish Christian students who pray. All claims that Christian students are victims in the schools no longer hold any water now that state law gives them carte blanche to abuse others in the name of their religious beliefs.
This law also even excuses educators and school administrators from alienating these students when they are the ones who should be providing comfort and protection.
As someone who was the victim of bullying for many years in elementary school,
I can safely say that the schools need to play a large part in offering students protection. Many critics of anti-bullying legislation claim that all damage control can be done in the home.
I was one student who was lucky enough to have a supportive family as well as a single supportive teacher — my music teacher — who allowed me to spend my lunch hours in her classroom instead of out in the schoolyard with my tormentors. Not every child has such luxury. Many have a difficult time being open with their parents, especially when it comes to matters such as their sexuality or gender identity.
There is also a large line-up of critics who claim that bullies are merely exercising their right to free speech. The “free speech” debate can stretch on for days, but free speech does not condone abuse.
No one will ever find a way to give every group the right to say anything without infringing on someone’s rights. However, when children are at stake, it’s best to go with the solution which causes the least amount of pain and suffering for everyone.
That was not the solution that was chosen here.
Bullies — whether they are Christian, atheist, Muslim or Jewish — do not deserve justification for their actions. Bullying is never justified — that’s why it’s bullying.