The father of the boy whose name is attached to “anti-bullying” legislation in Michigan has expressed “shame” about the bill. Why?
The boy in question, Matt, killed himself in 2002 at age 14 because of extensive bullying from classmates. Matt’s father, Kevin Epling, has said in a letter to the Michigan senate as that legislative body voted on the law,
“I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a ‘bullying is OK in Michigan law,'”
Why does he describe it that way? Because the law gives any bully an out, legally. Senate Democracts–who voted en bloc against the bill—had tried to add language to the legislation disallowing bullying for specific characteristics, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation. They struggled unsuccessfully, however, and the language in the version the Senate passed reads as follows:
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, if you can claim some sort of bullshit moral ground for systematically abusing another person emotionally or physically, you’d be off the hook. If you repeatedly walk by a gay student and tell him he’s going to hell and then claim that it’s because your religious beliefs require you to view homosexuality as a sin and to say so, what you’re doing, under this bill, probably would not be considered bullying. If you verbally attacked a person of Arab descent because you think their religion is Islam and you claim you view Islam as a threat from your religious perspective, under this legislation, what you had done wouldn’t be considered bullying. If you cyberbullied a girl or woman for how she dresses because you claim your religion prohibits that form of attire based on moral grounds, under this legislation, you probably could get away with such bullying.
In other words, this shameful and empty act of legislative spinelessness yields absolutely nothing in the way of protection for the bullied. It is, in fact, an attempt to institutionalize an out for anyone who chooses to bully, as long as they claim first amendment protection on the grounds of a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” Of note, while all of the Democrats in the Michigan Senate voted against it, 26 Republicans voted for it. The Michigan Senate has only 38 members, and the vote was 26-11 in favor of passage.
This legislation is a pro-bullying bill, the only “anti-bullying” bill on tap for one of the three states in the nation to lack such a law. Way to go, Michigan Senate! By the way, I find your behavior offensive to my sincerely held moral convictions. Your proposed law would protect a whole lot of behaviors I might choose to use to express that.
More links about this story
- From Jezebel
- The Detroit News
- Washington Post
- Time Magazine
- Detroit Free Press, noting that the House may remove the pro-bullying language
- ABC News: License to bully “backlash”