by Mary Griggs
Enumerated laws against bullying are about thwarting crime. Policies which require that all students are protected from bullying and harassment and also specifies categories of students who must be included by name is the best way to protect ALL students. Research shows that students experience less bullying, they feel safer, and teachers are more likely to intervene to prevent incidents of bullying in a school with an enumerated policy. (The 2009 National School Climate Survey is available for download at http://www.GLSEN.org/research).
There are those who oppose these anti-bullying laws who claim that passage would make Christians targets for persecution. They claim that including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is against the teaching of their church and they fear harassment for their beliefs.
Here are some of the more egregious examples (see Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids at http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/big-bullies-how-the-religious-right-trying-to-make-schools-safe-for-bullies-and-dangero for more):
Tom McClusky, Family Research Council’s Vice President of Government Affairs, claimed that President Obama’s efforts on preventing bullying will lead to “bullying by the federal government and by a homosexual agenda that seeks to make children hide their Christianity and their religion in the closet and to silence those who would speak out against what they don’t believe.”
Candi Cushman of Focus on the Family implied that groups like GLSEN want school sports teams to “ban athletes using their freedom of speech to voluntarily share the Gospel with those who disagree with their viewpoint.”
Brian Camenker, the head of the anti-gay group MassResistance, said “For the first time in our history, America is faced with a powerful movement that defines its alleged “rights” in terms of the deprivation of the fundamental rights of others. As a result, the homosexual movement is depriving other Americans of civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.”
After Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed an enumerated law that addressed bullying, the Illinois Family Institute claimed that the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ in anti-bullying programs will allow “homosexualists to use them as cultural battering rams” destroy First Amendment speech and religious protections” in order to “censor the expression of traditional moral beliefs and ultimately eradicate them.”
In their opposition to safe schools, these Christians seem to expect that their religious practices will be taken as civil law and that the prohibitions of their religion will be enforced on everybody–including non-Christians and Christians of denominations which respect the dignity of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
“Religious freedom does not include a right to special exemptions from the laws that bind all citizens,” said professor Tobias Wolff at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “Neither does religious freedom include a right to avoid criticism for one’s beliefs. Adherents to religions that preach discrimination against LGBT people have a right to explore their beliefs. They do not have a right to turn those beliefs into law, and they do not have a right to pursue their beliefs free from the disapproval of their fellow citizens.”
Orthodox Jews are not victims of oppression when other people are allowed to legally use electric appliances on the Sabbath. Muslims are not victims of oppression when other people are allowed to legally purchase alcohol. Hindus are not victims of oppression when other people are legally allowed to eat beef. By the same token, Christians are not victims of oppression when there are laws against bullying students because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
President Barack Obama stated this quite clearly: “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values…it requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.”
It is entirely reasonable that all students be protected against bullying. Doing so will not lead to the persecution of anyone but bullies. The Louisiana Safe Schools Coalition is in the process of drafting an enumerated anti-bully bill and working for its passage by the Louisiana Legislature. Please join us in educating and lobbying legislators, soliciting other supportive partners, testifying at the committee hearing, and informing your local community about the need for this vital legislation. For more information, contact the Forum For Equality at 504.569.9156 or visit our website at http://www.forumforequality.org.