No Bullying, With Exceptions

A large part of my job is working to protect the rights of high school students. A large part of my personal life involves working to protect the rights of LGBT people. So you can imagine how well bullying goes over with me.

That’s why I’m happy to see bullying legislation aimed at protecting secular and LGBT students (you can guess from what demographic the opposition to these measures comes). I was confused today to read this

The Michigan Senate passed an anti-bullying bill Wednesday over strong objections from Democrats

Who objects an anti-bullying bill?

The law includes a section noting it doesn’t abridge First Amendment free speech rights or prohibit expression of religious or moral viewpoints

Say what?

So you cannot say to an atheist student, “My friend is going to beat the shit out of you if you don’t stop being an atheist” because if the student complains, well that’s a threat, and we can’t have that. But you can say, “My friend is going to burn you forever if you don’t stop being an atheist” and if the student complains, well, that’s just religion.

Or you can’t say, “You’re worthless and anybody who’s worth anything hates you”. If the student complains the offender will receive some level of discipline. But you can say, “You’re an abomination, and the only being whose love is relevant says so!” If the student complains, well, that’s religion.

I wonder how far they’d extend that? Could they do, “You’re an abomination and you don’t deserve to be loved!”? This is standard theology in some churches. Or how about, “You’re an abomination and you deserve fewer rights than me!” This is the majority opinion amongst Christians in the USA, so plenty of theological impetus for that one. What about “You’re an abomination and you deserve to die!” It says so in the bible, and how is this less bad than the pious student threatening with eternal torture? Is anybody honestly going to say this is not a religious or moral viewpoint?

This just in: people can bully through religion. Christianity specifically, with the idea of hell, is designed to bully people into compliance. Christianity as a haven for ideological bullies is why atheists stay closeted for fear of losing their families or jobs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for free speech, but this leaves the bill too nebulous for my comfort. There are no direct provisions in the bill (that I could find) to narrow down what is acceptable or not. This means that a ruffian could always claim religious motivation when engaging in psychological bullying and it would leave enough grey area for a sympathetic administrator to let them off the hook. If you’re going to have a bill dedicated to enforcing penalties for bullying, which you would only need if administrators weren’t doing a good enough job on their own, you probably shouldn’t leave the door open for exceptions. Bullying is as unacceptable for Christians as it is for Caucasians, short people, or unbelievers. Bullying sucks no matter who is doing it.

If the law gives religious students the privilege to threaten, with the accompanying implicit (or non-implicit) derogatory dig of who god loves more, if only the bully threatens in the proper and governmentally approved fashion, then I at least want a provision granting the atheist student impunity to respond with, “Well you, your family, and all the members of your church a collection of dunces for believing that.” Who can honestly say that’s worse?

  • Glodson

    The thing I find the most disappointing is that I’m sure a number of supporters of this bill understood this loophole. You don’t want to cruelly bully someone for being gay, but a Christian should be able to educate a gay person on how being gay makes Baby Jesus cry, for some reason.

    Many attempt to obfuscate their bigotry with religion. For some reason, there are a number of groups that are still acceptable targets to a large number of people. Until that stops, until Christians abandon their institutionalized bigotry, LGBT teens will sadly have to deal with this idiocy.

    Fuck, is it too much to ask for people to just tolerate others? It wouldn’t be hard. It really wouldn’t. But some people seem to take it personally that some people do believe in their version of god, or like the same sex, or whatever.

  • http://war-on-error.xanga.com/ Ben

    But think of the bigoted children!

  • http://honesttogodless.blogspot.com Matt Foss

    The distinction here is between saying “I believe that homosexuality is immoral and can’t condone it” and “I hate homosexuals and don’t want them near me”. The former is honesty about a belief; the latter is bigotry.

    So you cannot say to an atheist student, “My friend is going to beat the shit out of you if you don’t stop being an atheist” because if the student complains, well that’s a threat, and we can’t have that. But you can say, “My friend is going to burn you forever if you don’t stop being an atheist” and if the student complains, well, that’s just religion.”

    I think the difference would be that the first kid’s friend probably exists, so the threat is actually worth attention. On the other hand, if someone told me that his imaginary friend in the sky was going to kick my ass, I’d probably laugh at him. Threatening to have your invisible pink unicorn trample me for eternity is not a threat at all, however unpleasant the thought of being trampled for eternity is.

    The Christian Left can try to sugarcoat and redefine their religion all they want and pretend like Christianity is accepting of homosexuality, but that doesn’t make it true. I almost have more respect for the fundies, who are at least honest about what their holy book says. Let them inadvertently kill their religion with its own words – reading the Bible helped turn me into an atheist, after all.

  • http://war-on-error.xanga.com/ Ben

    “…if someone told me that his imaginary friend in the sky was going to kick my ass, I’d probably laugh at him. Threatening to have your invisible pink unicorn trample me for eternity is not a threat at all, however unpleasant the thought of being trampled for eternity is.”

    Except that’s not how *all* humans (or necessarily even most) process what we might see as imaginary threats. It’s a staple of humanity to be intimidated and threatened by fear of the unknown. It’s the power of suggestion and all that. So the reactions of one group can’t be used to dismiss the problem. I’m not sure that’s what you were doing, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    The bill is called “Matt’s Safe School Law.” The language JT’s talking about was only recently inserted, and caused Senator Whitmer, who had been a co-sponsor of the bill, to vote no. The father of Matt Epling, whom the bill’s named after, is now ashamed to have the bill named for his son, who committed suicide in part because of anti-gay bullying.

    http://www.detnews.com/article/20111102/SCHOOLS/111020427/Dad-%E2%80%98ashamed%E2%80%99-of-anti-bullying-bill-named-after-son-as-it-passes-Senate

    http://youtu.be/zDK-ja8PLgg

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    Crud, my comment is caught in the spam filter by a couple of links. Um, JT, any chance you could take care of that? Please?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Done. Sorry ’bout that.

  • ambera

    Here’s the youtube video of a senator who opposed this bill.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWBTmhglsNU

  • Paul Weaver

    PZ Myers has some very good reasons why this is a bad bill, and why the Democrats voted against it. First the Republicans gutted it so it was powerless, then the Christians inserted language to permit anyone with religious beliefs to do as they damn well please.

    Anti-bullying legislation and action is needed across the nation – but this bill is not an example of it.