Louisiana religious conservatives have once again succeeded in having the Legislature shelve a gay-inclusive bullying bill, saying that it risked criminalizing Christian kids who have a right to object to homosexuality.
The bill’s author, rather than see her legislation gutted of its intent, chose to pull the bill.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the proposal, said an amendment approved by the House Education Committee all but nullified the aim of her legislation.
“Rather than you degrade a bill that was meant for the safety of children, which is what you have just done, I am pulling the bill,” Smith told the committee, which ended a two-hour hearing that included tearful testimony from the parents and friends of deceased children.
The decisive amendment included the removal of parts of the bill that spelled out specific prohibitions against bullying for reasons of sexual orientation, disabilities, race and other issues.
It won approval 10-5 and was sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.
This has now become an annual tradition for Louisiana lawmakers who have successively opposed creating enumerated classes despite the fact that evidence shows that when you specifically highlight vulnerable groups it becomes much easier to track instances of bullying and take action to combat bullying behavior.
Conservative lawmakers and groups resisted HB407 and counterpart measure SB 619, collectively known as the Bullying Prevention Act of 2012, specifically over its sexual orientation-inclusive wording, that the legislation didn’t name other groups (though it did offer a standard list of cognizable groups), and that Louisiana already has bullying legislation, saying that the changes weren’t needed and risked impeding free speech of Christian students and staff.
Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills, who said he’s an ordained minister, told lawmakers, that the bill “introduces sexual politics” into the classroom and would discriminate against religious expression. “You could make a criminal bully out of a child who holds an orthodox view of Christianity.”
Jindal aide Russell Armstrong said the governor believes an enumerated list creates winners and losers. Jindal later sidestepped a question about Smith’s bill, saying he “supports a bill … to protect children.” He didn’t say what bill, though some lawmakers have filed other measures that have yet to be heard. Jindal said local school boards should develop anti-bullying policies.
Jennifer Curry, a counseling professor at LSU, told lawmakers that enumerating specific examples is an important component to training school officials and educating students. She offered an example of middle school boys pulling off the headdresses of Muslim girls. Neither the boys nor their teachers knew that the act was a religious offense, Curry said.
This is despite the fact that several people gave testimony regarding a need to create stricter legislation, including Tiffany Phelps who recounted her conversations with 17-year-old Tesa Middlebrook who was being bullied at Pointe Coupee Parish Central High School. Despite reporting the conversations she had with Middlebrook, Phelps alleges nothing was ever done because the bullying protocol was too lax.
Her case, tragically, is not unique in the state, or across the rest of the country.