In Michigan, the State’s Republican-controlled Senate has passed an anti-bullying law named after a gay victim.
Good thing you might think. Except it’s not.
The Republicans put in a clause, introduced in secret, which is a cop out for anyone who can provide a religious or moral reason for their action.
Apparently to not grant this get-out clause is to act, as Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, puts it, as “a Trojan horse for the homosexual agenda.”
The Michigan bills are known as ‘Matt’s Safe School Law’ and are named for Matt Epling, an East Lansing gay teenager who committed suicide after being bullied.
Michigan Republicans only agreed to consider an anti-bullying measure — for one of the only three US states without them — that did not require school districts to report bullying incidents, did not include any provisions for enforcement or teacher training, and did not hold administrators accountable if they fail to act. They wanted no mention of any groups at high risk of bullying, in particular gay students.
Watch the reaction from Matt’s dad, who has supported anti-bullying efforts for years and runs a website in Matt’s memory:
“Rather than providing a blueprint for schools to handle the situation,” he says, “they have given students an easy out to assault, harass, belittle and harm fellow students with no recourse by the schools. Religion should never be used as a weapon and in no circumstance should a state entity ‘sanction’ violence in the name of religion.”
“‘For years the line has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in — very secretly — was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions. This line has no purpose within this piece of legislation except to incite ‘religious bigotry’ within our schools.”
Democrats voted against a bill they had long championed because of the religious exception inserted at the last moment. Watch the reaction from Minority Leader in the Senate Gretchen Whitmer:
“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,” she says. “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.”
As Amy Sullivan, who is from Michigan, explains for Time, it is her local social conservatives that think they’re the ones being bullied, that efforts to protect gay kids attack their religious liberty:
“It’s also a highly selective conception of religious liberty,” she says. “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.”
Given the real attacks on Christians in Pakistan and of other religious minorities elsewhere in the world, it takes what Sullivan calls a “serious persecution complex” to think up this clause to allow ridicule of gay students on religious grounds.
Having passed the Senate, the so-called ‘anti-bullying’ bill goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass with the religious exception clause included.
Photo by Kelley Mari