Michigan Senate Republicans have reached a new low this week: finding a way to turn anti-bullying legislation into a bill that actually protects bullying instead of preventing it.
Following in the footsteps of 45 other states, Michigan was poised to adopt legislation that would require schools to develop an anti-bullying policy. At the last minute, however, language was added to the bill that places LGBTQ students in more danger instead of less: a specific allowance for bullying that is done in the name of religious belief.
According to the bill as it now stands, the new policies will 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.” The bill passed the Republican-majority Senate in a party-line vote, and will now move on to the state’s House, which is also Republican-led.
Obviously, it is important to protect the religious freedom of students. By inserting language like this into bullying legislation, however, Republicans are not just protecting the rights of students to express their personal religious views. They’re giving students the right to use those views to bully and harass others. No matter how deep one’s convictions might be, behavior that would otherwise be considered bullying does not magically become not-bullying simply because it is backed by religious belief. As many of us are well aware, the most extreme bullying often comes in the name of religious fundamentalism—consider, for an almost too-obvious example, the Westboro Baptist Church.
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Religion plays in integral role in the lives of many people, and we are right to value and embrace a variety of religious beliefs in our society. But religion cannot be considered so sacred that it trumps all other moral and ethical considerations. If anti-bullying legislation is to have any value at all, it must include all bullying and harassment, rather than making special allowances for hate that is motivated by religious belief. After all, an adolescent who is being tormented by peers does not suffer less just because his or her tormentors believe that God is on their side. No religious belief should ever be a license to inflict harm on others, especially our youth.