Fact: At least 10 people have committed suicide in the past decade due to bullying.
Fact: One of those 10 was 14-year-old Matt Eppling from East Lansing who was driven to suicide after being bullied by his classmates in 2002.
Fact: Michigan is one of 3 states in the nation that hasn’t enacted an anti-bulling law to address bullying in schools.
Recently, the Michigan state legislature has been working on an anti-bullying legislation. On November 2nd, the Michigan Senate passed their version of the anti-bullying bill. This bill, entitled “Matt’s Safe School Law” named after Matt Eppling, “doesn’t abridge First Amendment free speech rights or prohibit expression of religious or moral viewpoints” (http://detnews.com/article/20111103/POLITICS02/111030376/Michigan-Senate-OKs-anti-bullying-bill-despite-protests). Many Democrats opposed this bill because they feared that this clause would open the doors for bullies to harass other students who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer). Democrats tried adding an amendment that would restrict bullying based on characteristics such as “race, gender, and sexual preference,” but this was turned down.
A week later, the Michigan House passed its own version of an anti-bullying bill. By a 88-18 margin, they agreed that the language of the bill passed by the Senate was unacceptable and they would work out some form of compromise. This House bill requires all districts to have an anti-bullying policy which they must present to the Michigan Department of Education. It also excludes the “religious exemption” clause suggested by the Senate. Although Democrats wish there was more protection for the students in the bill, Republicans feel that it is the duty of local level officials, rather than state level officials, to write a more detailed anti-bullying policy for their particular district.
The “religious exemption” clause reminds me of what would happen in an “Emersonian” society. Emerson is entirely against looking to conventional morality to decide what is right and wrong. Rather, he believes that one should look to his own soul to determine what’s right and wrong. He states, “The only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.” This can lead to a very dangerous, lawless society in which people fall victim to self-deification and virtually become their own God. With the “Matt’s Safe School Law,” critics claim that the “religious exemption” will allow bullies to defend themselves by saying that it was based on some type of religious or moral grounds. Some people have raised concerns that comments will be made such as, “You’re going to hell because you are gay” and this will be defended by a bully who says his religion is anti-gay.
The most recent news reports say that the state legislature is moving toward an anti-bullying bill that excludes an exemption for “religiously motivated harassment.” This is largely the result of public outrages, which say that giving religious people a loophole to bully is absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable. TV comedian Stephen Colbert even mocked the bill by saying, “Bullying is just fine, as long as you get a permission slip from God.” Fortunately the House has already voted against a “religious exemption,” now we just need the Senate to come to their senses.