A Word in Edgewise: License to Bully?

Although Michigan toned down its recent hateful anti-bullying bill and passed a saner, more moderate version, the whole episode can still stand as a model of what to expect from bigots; tenacity, disingenuousness, and downright skullduggery.

Into the original anti-bullying bill, Republicans at the last instant inserted a line stating certain exemptions, which essentially gutted the purpose of the legislation:

“This section does not abridge the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States or under Article 1 of the state Constitution of 1963 of a school employee, school volunteers, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.

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, had the legislation passed at this point stood, a gay (or, let’s face it, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, Wiccan, atheist or agnostic) child could be hounded daily with, “You’re going to Hell, you (fill in the epithet)!” Or, logically, that teachers themselves could be targets should their lives or religious preferences be suspect.

I may be wrong, but I’m presuming that the religious and moral beliefs of the bully here were presumed to be Christian. I don’t think the Republicans intended any other “sincerely held belief or moral [non-Christian] conviction” model to be used against Christian children .

The bill, titled “Matt’s Safe School Law” after a bullied 13-year old who had killed himself in 2002, passed 26-11 with every Democrat voting against it–even Matt’s father, Kevin Epling, reported being “ashamed” of the bill, adding that the clause, “… is contrary to the rest of the bill and is definitely contrary to what I’ve been telling students, to step in and step up when they see this taking place in their school.”

The upshot was that the Michigan Senate was forced to drop what was being called “a license to bully” and adopted a House version offering a compromise that would require anti-bullying policies in schools.

A happier ending, but still a cautionary tale illustrating that one must continually vigilant to ensure that others’ religious and moral codes are not being forced on the general population.

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