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?

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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