I was originally going to post this tomorrow morning, but it’s finished and I’m cranky, so I’m hitting the Publish button now.
The Michigan Senate passed Matt’s Safe School Law on Tuesday. Sponsored by Senator Rick Jones, this bill would amend the Michigan School Code to require public schools to adopt antibullying policies. So far, so good, right?
The full text of the bill is here. It states that “ALL PUPILS ARE PROTECTED UNDER THE POLICY AND THAT BULLYING IS EQUALLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT REGARD TO ITS SUBJECT MATTER OR MOTIVATING ANIMUS.” (State senators love CAPS-lock!)
The bill also requires any school employee with “RELIABLE INFORMATION THAT WOULD LEAD A REASONABLE PERSON TO SUSPECT THAT A PUPIL IS A TARGET OF BULLYING” to report it, theoretically making it harder for teachers and other staff to dismiss or ignore incidents of bullying. Also a good thing.
And then, toward the end, the bill makes a mockery of itself with part 8:
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
In other words, bullying is OKAY if you do it out of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction. You could tell that kid at the bus stop “You’re a filthy faggot and you’re going to burn in hell!” every day, and that would be just peachy, as long as you’re sincere.
(To forestall an argument I’ve already have once today, please note that “this section” refers to the entire bill: Section 1310b of the revised school code. This means that nothing in this bill prohibits such statements. So please don’t try to argue “But doesn’t this other part of the bill balance it out or provide protection?”)
The Bill is named after Matt Epling, who committed suicide 40 days after being assaulted at the end of eighth grade. Matt’s father Kevin, who has been working to get Michigan to pass an anti-bullying law, said, “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying, when in fact it is a ‘bullying is OK in MI’ law.”
The Bill hasn’t yet passed through the House, so it’s possible, even likely, that things will change. But what the hell? Can someone please explain why an anti-bullying law requires a specific exemption for religiously-motivated hate?
I assume the fear is that this law could be used to squash people’s freedom of religion. I could see someone worrying that their kid will say, “At Sunday school we learned you have to be baptised to go to Heaven!” and end up accused of bullying: “Teacher, Billy said I’m going to Hell!”
But according to the bill, bullying is defined as acts:
…BY A PUPIL DIRECTED AT 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
My “We learned about baptism on Sunday” example does not fall under this definition of bullying. Part 8 of this bill is not about protecting freedom of religion; it’s about protecting people’s “right” to intentionally inflict harm, or to act in ways that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm other students … as long as it’s done for religious or “moral” reasons.
Let’s make this as simple as possible, shall we?
1. Bullying is not okay. Period.
2. Freedom of religion does not give you the right to physically or verbally assault people.
3. If your sincerely-held religious beliefs require you to bully children, then your beliefs are fucked up.