Michigan Takes Small Steps Toward a Better Anti-Bullying Law

After Republican state senators in Michigan changed an anti-bullying law to allow bullying if it was due to a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” there was an uproar from state Democrats, GLBT students and allies, atheists, progressives, anyone with a heart… basically, everyone except those Republican state senators.

It appears to be making a difference as the bill moves to the House:

Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, is working on a compromise this week that will “bring everyone to the middle of the road and provide protection to all students,” said Ari Adler, Bolger’s spokesman.

Adler said Bolger supports anti-bullying legislation that is general and protects all students equally.

“He does not support legislation that would enumerate specific groups for additional protection, nor does he support a bill that would provide an excuse for someone to bully someone else.”

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing, said in a news release today that she wants Bolger to ensure the bill is comprehensive in its protections.

Right now, there’s no word on what the revision would be. But it’s a start. Anything that lets Christians off the hook for bullying gay students because Jesus commanded them to do it isn’t just a waste of time — it’s downright harmful. It encourages them to verbally abuse gay students and tell them they’re abnormal or unworthy of true love. It gives them license to try to “cure” gay students of their orientation through any number of means. And it may even protect them from punishment if they physically abuse gay students.

Christians ought to be leading the fight to fix the current law so that all students are protected from bullying and school administrators are held accountable for how they respond to such incidents. But since they’re not going to do it, the rest of us can keep the pressure on the Michigan House to make things right again.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Mrs. B.

    Yes!! Thank you for this post. I hadn’t heard back from my Democratic state reps yet, both of whom I sent long emails to regarding this issue. This is a slight ray of sunshine!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Forgive my cynicism, and I hope I’m wrong:  If this follows the usual pattern of Republican “compromise,” then enormous amounts of time will drag on, and the “revised” bill will either be essentially the same or worse.  To Republican legislators, “compromise” is a game where they lie, and lie, and lie, and Democrats believe them again, and again, and again.

    “Here, Charlie Brown, I’ll hold the football, and you run up and kick it!”

    • Mrs. B.

      Oh, I agree; there is no compromise right now with Republicans. It’s their way or the highway. They can’t be shamed because they seemingly have no morality and are incapable of empathy.

      However, at least stopping this piece of shit in its tracks, as an open license to bully in the name of god and morality,  is a start. Granted, it’s disheartening that they were able to sidetrack a piece of legislation that had the potential for so much good, but at least they haven’t been slide through their twisted version.

      I’m holding out the slimmest of hope that 2012 will be the year that people realize that they need to get off their butts and vote in their own best interests at all levels of government and maybe we can get these jackasses outnumbered once again. I’d pray, but well, you know. 

    • Anonymous

      Just wait for the “coup de grâce” when they pull out the attack ads claiming that Democrats support bullies because they voted “No” on this bill.  Am I too cynical?  Maybe.  I do hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that I’m not.  I’ve seen this stunt pulled in politics too often.

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

      Cynicism forgiven. I feel it too. I mean, take this: 

      “He does not support legislation that would enumerate specific groups for additional protection,

      Ok, fine. But how about saying ” . . . including, but not limited to, gender, sexual orientation, race, creed, size, appearance, grades, disability, economic status, number of parents, parent’s job, preference for books over sports,  . . . ”

      The “not limited to” eliminates any claim to “additional protection,” and makes the list into just examples. Not hard.

      (yes, I did just try to think of everything I may have seen or been on one end of when in school; I might have missed some though)

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    I certainly hope it helps. Like Mrs. B. says, it’s a slight ray of sunshine! 

  • Aaron Foster

    Hopefully there will be some change considering everyone but the republicans are against it, but we’ll have to see.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that groups were asking for MORE protection under the law than what was provided to other groups.  For instance: I cannot imagine a gay or atheist student saying they should have better protection under an anti-bullying law than a black student.  They were just asking for the *same* protection.  Or any protection.

    As far as saying of Boldger: “He don’t support legislation that… would provide an excuse for someone to bully someone else.” Uh, you guys probably should have thought about that before you passed a bill last week which LITERALLY did just that.

    • Anonymous

      It’s the usual “special rights” trope again

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

    I hope this does fix the language. As it stands, it’s absolutely awful. And not just for the gay kids, but for anyone who thinks differently from the bully. Another faith, hell, even another brand of the SAME faith is at risk under the current bill. I’m just glad that it got some pretty large attention, rather than just sneaking through, because this is the kind of thing that folks like Focus on the Family would push big time as being “fair” anti-bullying legislation.

  • Anonymous

    In a related story,  Michigan legislature passes law allowing Christians to rob banks.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      Michigan Organization for Focusing On Michigan Families (MOFO-MF)   ;)

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    What I don’t get is that Christians are free to bully, taunt, “cure”, convert, drag behind trucks, and otherwise pressure and coerce people for eternity in the afterlife.  Why do they insist on also doing it (in the very small by comparison) here and now?  Are they that greedy?  Can’t they see the big picture?  Don’t they believe in an infinite afterlife?  Can’t they just bide their time a little?

    Or are they trying to do God’s work by being God’s hands and feet… and believe that since God will throw the “undesirables” into the lake of fire, the undesirables might as well get a little of what’s coming to them right now.

  • Anonymous

    Every time this issue comes up I’ always amazed that it’s so hard to pass a bill that protects all students from bullying.
    Why would Christians want to let other Christians bully people? that just gives them all a bad (worse) image.

  • TiltedHorizon

    Reminds me of a joke I came across a few years ago, I don’t remember the setup but the punchline is funny in itself:

    “If God had wanted me to be accepting of others, he would have given me the warmth and compassion to do so!”

    I guess this is why the GOP spends so much time reaffirming our motto, actually fixing issues and progressing this nation forward requires the warmth and compassion to do so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

    I was wondering, can’t we turn this law around on the people it was made to help? I hold a deep moral conviction to brutalize any person I see bullying someone no matter the age/race/creed. Under this law would I get away with beating a bully up?

  • Austin

    Frankly, I just think it should be reworded. People with religious beliefs or moral convictions should be able to mention their religious beliefs and moral convictions, but not do anything more than mention them. It doesn’t need to be prolonged harassment. I know this can still cause emotional harm, but people have a right to say what that believe. I don’t think it violates the first amendment because it doesn’t give unequal treatment between religious people and atheists. If one of us has a “moral conviction” that religious people are stupid, then they can say it! I just think the first amendment should give you a right to state your beliefs and opinions even if you’re on school grounds. It sucks for the persons being persecuted, but I don’t think this is an instance when free speech should be sacrificed.

    • Anonymous

      There can be consequences for speech. Free speech means you can’t be jailed solely for what you believe. It doesn’t give anyone the right to harm others in the process – either physically or emotionally.

      • Austin

        I don’t remember the first amendment saying “Congress shall make know law abridging the freedom of speech, unless it hurts someones feelings. I realize that the constitution is not an infallible piece of work, but if you don’t like it elect people to amend it. Obviously there are consequences for speech, I mention that it sucks for persons being persecuted. But I do not think that people should not be allowed to say their opinions. 

        • Anonymous

          You really don’t get it. Free speech doesn’t trump every other right just because it’s listed first. When two rights are in conflict, you have to weigh them against each other. Freedom of speech isn’t absolute and it can be restricted in certain cases.

          This wouldn’t even prevent anyone from voicing an opinion about gay people. Just place  a restriction in certain contexts (such as location), which is legally permissible.

          Besides, we aren’t talking about “hurt feelings” here. You’re completely trivializing the consequences of bullying. And I’m not just talking about suicide.

          • Austin

            First of all, you don’t have a right to not get picked on. Secondly I did weigh the rights against each other, I think free speech is more important. I think there are very few contexts in which you don’t have a right to free speech, and absolutely none in which you can’t state your opinion. Am I saying free speech has no consequences? No. It can be very damaging to individuals and groups. But I think it’s more important than someones emotional stability. As I said, it should only allow you to mention your opinion. Not harass people. If someone commits suicide because someone says “I think gays go to hell”, that’s terrible. But freedom of expression, in my opinion, is more important. It’s the entire reason we can have this debate, regardless of location.

            • Aaron Foster

              But we aren’t talking about “just hurting someone’s feelings” we’re talking about using a religious belief to completely shield yourself from the consequences of what you say.  The people who are bulling these kids aren’t just saying “I think gays go to hell” and that’s it.  There’s a systematic abuse that they commit. Once it gets to the point where these kids are killing themselves we have to ask what we can do to change that.  Those kids have just as much a right to live and be happy than anyone else.

              I just think there is a fundamental difference between hurting someone’s feelings and driving them to taking their own life.

              • Anonymous

                As said, it’s not only about suicide. That’s just the most extreme result. Even without it, the emotional consequences can be severe. Not just in a purely psychological sense, but it  can have an effect on one’s overall success in school and life. Being severely bullied is often associated with lower grades for example. It can also have more lasting effects like one’s ability to form social bonds later.

                If Austin had been bullied when growing up we wouldn’t have this exchange. He wouldn’t have the misconception that it’s just about saying some bad words

                • Austin

                  Don’t make assumptions without knowing the facts. I was bullied like crazy in middle school. I’m in eleventh grade and I’m still bullied. I understand the emotional pain that can be associated with it. It sucks. But I think people have a right to a mere statement of opinion. So there wouldn’t be severe bullying allowed. You seem to be missing that.

                • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

                  As someone who claims to be have been bullied you seem to have a disturbing disconnect between having an opinion and bullying:

                  Having an Opinion:
                  “I think being black is wrong.”

                  Bullying:
                  “I think being black is wrong.”
                  “I think being black is wrong.”
                  “I think being black is wrong.”
                  “I think being black is wrong.”

                  Having an opinion means stating it once and then shutting the hell up about it.  The black person knows just how you feel, leave them the fuck alone now.

                  But the bully can’t do that, they’re not happy unless the victim knows every single day that “being black is wrong”.  The black kid has to listen for days, weeks, months on end to the bully’s unsolicited “opinion”.

                  Now there are really only three outcomes to this:

                  1) The victim stands up for themselves and beats the living shit out the bully to get them to stop their bullying.  This can go even more extreme to the point the kids brings a weapon to school and goes on a killing spree.

                  2) The victim just takes it and suffers long term emotional damage that affects their life well into adulthood.  Their ability to make lasting adult friendships and connections will be impacted and make it much more difficult to function.

                  3) They are so emotionally distraught that they kill themselves to escape the constant pain and torture of the incessant bullying.

                  This isn’t about “people having an opinion” its about respect.  NO ONE has the right to treat you with such disrespect over something so innately part of your physicality; telling a black kid you think its wrong to be black, something they have no control over, isn’t an opinion, its an attack on black kids period.

                • Austin

                  Did you read my other comments? I said that it should be reworded so that they can only mention their opinions. Once. I don’t think that they can tell you you can’t say your mind. I would not support it progressing to harassment. If someone feels the need to repeat their opinions, then, I think you can stop them. Secondly, while I don’t support it, people do have the right to treat you with disrespect; to a degree. They cannot deny you rights or services or anything like that and you should get equal treatment. But I feel, if someone wants to say they don’t like something about you they can say it. As long as it doesn’t lead to harassment. And yes, it is an attack on black kids to say “I think being black is wrong”. But, in my opinion, I think he/she should be allowed a mere statement of that opinion. No more, no less. It sucks, it really does. But it also sucks if people shut you up. Imagine an atheist going to school and wanting to state his mind that “Hey, I don’t think ‘under God’ should be in the pledge” or something else regarded his/her humanistic beliefs. If someone religious finds that to be offensive and people with convictions didn’t have these protections, then they might construe that as bullying. It’s not so much letting people bully as reworded it to make sure that a single statement of opinion is not defined as bullying. It doesn’t give preferential treatment. 

                • Mrs. B.

                  Could you have possibly just stated your opinion on this subject once and left it at that? It would seem not.

                  Do you really think a bully will call someone a faggot or bitch or nigger or whatever just once and be happy with that? I want some of what you’re taking.

              • Austin

                That’s why I said they should only be allowed to state their opinions. It goes no further. In my opinion that right of expression is more important. I know that religious people can use it as an excuse, but so can atheists.

    • walkamungus

      I’ll grant you that the proposed law is cleverly worded to make it *look like* a free-speech issue. But the effect of the wording would be to give bullies a pass if they can say they were acting out of a deeply held religious or moral conviction: “Yes, I wrote “GOD HATES FAGS” on his locker every day since school started, and I’m sorry that he killed himself, but I really believe that God does hate fags!”

      Nope. Points for clever misdirection, but no way.

      • Austin

        Read my comments. All I said was that it should be reworded so that they can state their opinion once. I think the proposed wording of the bill is horrendous. I offered a different  solution than just stopping people from saying their opinions in school.

  • BC

    Wouldn’t this “moral convictions” clause backfire once Black Hebrew Israelite kids and Neo-Nazi kids started using it to justify bullying members of other races as per their respective “moral beliefs”?

    Even if you believe that gays are doomed to hell (and yet somehow you’re not), it’s not the job of the government to condemn them.


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