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Michigan’s Anti-Bullying Bill: Who Is Bullying Whom?

November 7, 2011

Michigan Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) secured the addition of one sentence to an otherwise non-controversial bill, one whose origins are rooted in a student’s suicide over school bullying.  Bullying was around long before ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays‘ memorialized it so effectively in the character of Harry Flashman, later the namesake cowardly anti-hero of George MacDonald Frasier’s novels.  Having experienced a fair amount of it myself (I was seven years old the first time I needed stitches), I am in sympathy with any reasonable attempt to put some basic restraints on bullying, without going to the opposite extreme of creating a politically-correct dystopia of our schools.

The offending sentence bars the punishment of, “a statement of a sincerely held belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”  It is intended to protect the speech of those who may object, say, to teaching that endorses, or appears to endorse, so-called ‘gay marriage,’ the homosexual lifestyle, et cetera.  The Michigan Schools Superintendent, Mike Flannagan, sharply criticized the bill, saying that it was a sick joke in the name of a dead student.

Sen. Jones, previously voted ‘Legislator of the Year‘ by a school social worker organization for his efforts to combat predatory acts directed by those in authority over them, and to remove ‘Romeo and Juliet’ cases from the sex offender registry, is no stranger to controversy.  Nonetheless, the explosive reaction by Flannagan, Senate Democrats and others to what was intended to be a free speech protection for Christians and others whose religious views clash with the culture and school curricula may have surprised him.  If I read S 137 correctly, the intent of the sentence in question is to protect ‘sincerely-held religious beliefs,’ not name-calling, beatings, or the like.  One can imagine that, under this bill as law, it would be permissible for someone to say, “Homosexuality is morally wrong,” or “My church teaches that only a man and a woman may marry,” as opposed to saying, Billy, you’re a %$#@!.”  If the intent of the bill’s detractors is to protect students, perhaps they ought to work constructively to craft language that does that without having the potential to be used to tell Christians to shut up.

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