The state of Michigan has passed a new law saying that some forms of bullying are wrong. But for those in Michigan who believe that the God they worship is an Almighty Bully in the sky, and that this Bully-God requires them to bully others, Michigan says it’s perfectly legal and peachy-keen to keep tormenting others. Especially if those others are sexual or religious minorities.
Just days after a cellphone video emerged showing a gay 15-year-old in Ohio being assaulted by another student, the Michigan Senate passed new anti-bullying legislation, but some say it actually encourages bullying to take place.
Chief among its critics is Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who in a searing floor speech said that the new “Matt’s Safe School Law,” named after a Michigan teen who committed suicide after an anti-gay hazing attack, is meaningless.
Whitmer cites a special exception in the law for bullies who have “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The law also does not address bullying against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“You may be able to pat yourselves on the back today and say that you did something, but in actuality you are explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying,” said Senator Whitmer. “As passed today, bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”
Kevin Epling, father of the Michigan teen for whom the bill has been named, agrees with Whitmer. His son Matt had syrup and crushed eggs poured over his head by bullies just days before he killed himself.
“This is government-sanctioned bigotry,” Epling told the Detroit Free Press. Epling said he was “ashamed” of the language that was added last- minute.
In a post titled “Why Does Michigan’s Anti-Bullying Bill Protect Religious Tormenters?” Amy Sherman explains why the privilege of legal sanction for bullying others is viewed by the worshippers of the Bully-God as a vital religious freedom:
To understand what happened in Michigan, it’s important to know that social conservatives consider themselves the real victims. At the federal level, they unsuccessfully fought for the inclusion of a provision protecting religious freedom when Congress expanded the definition of a hate crime to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation. They also strongly oppose legislation that would prevent discrimination against gay individuals in the workplace, charging that such a law would endanger religious freedom. A report on the Christian Broadcasting Network outlined one such concern: “The special protections for gay and transgendered teachers will make it extremely difficult for [public school] districts that might want to remove them from the classroom.”
In other words, social conservatives believe that efforts to protect gays from assault, discrimination or bullying impinge on their religious freedom to express and act on their belief that homosexuality is an abomination. That’s stating it harshly, but it is the underlying belief.
This belief, however, relies on a warped understanding of religious liberty. Freedom of religious expression doesn’t give someone the right to kick the crap out of a gay kid or to verbally torment her. It doesn’t give someone the right to fire a gay employee instead of dealing with the potential discomfort of working with him.
It’s also a highly selective conception of religious liberty. The same religious conservatives who applaud the religious exemption in Michigan’s anti-bullying bill would be appalled if it protected a Muslim student in Dearborn who defended bullying a Christian classmate by saying he considered her an infidel.
Again we see that religious hegemons arguing for legal and cultural privileges for their own sect tend to be wholly incapable of any kind of shoe-on-the-other-foot thinking. Whatever you choose to call that capacity — moral intelligence, imagination, empathy, fairness, justice, love — they ain’t got it and they don’t want it.
Unlike every other sectarian or secular ethical system we humans have come up with, the religion of Bully-God worship lacks any notion of the Golden Rule.
Very much related to the above:
Jenny Rae Armstrong: “Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault: Yes, It Is the Church’s Business”
Amanda Marcotte: “The culture of Christian child abuse”
Laura Bassett: “The Men Behind the War on Women”
Helen Lewis Hasteley: “‘You should have your tongue ripped out’: the reality of sexist abuse online”