HRC Blog

Let’s End Bullying in Michigan, Not Endorse It

Post submitted by Paul Guequierre, HRC Staff

Update: On November 29, 2011, the Michigan Senate passed an alternate anti-bullying bill, which will go to Governor Snyder for his signature. The new version of the bill does not include the egregious language allowing bullying motivated by religious beliefs but unfortunately fails to included enumerated categories which provide the best protections to students, particularly LGBT students.

No child deserves to be bullied.  It’s really that simple.  Every child has the right to go to school free of harassment, name-calling, and physical abuse.  Teachers and school administrators have an obligation to provide students with an atmosphere conducive to learning, one where they feel safe, and one that will prepare them for their future.  Across the country, state legislatures are passing anti-bullying laws to make sure students are given the benefit of that atmosphere, which is so important to their growth and transition into adulthood.  The state legislature in Michigan is poised to pass an anti-bullying law, but with one very dangerous flaw.

The legislation (Senate Bill 137), which passed in the state Senate and now heads to the state House of Representatives, allows for religious exemptions.  As written, the bill allows for bullying statements so long as the statement is “of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”  A student who believes their religious tenets hold that a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person could not go to heaven could tell a gay student that he will “burn in hell” on a daily basis and school officials would be hamstrung.  Under Senate Bill 137, if a bully has, or even claims to have, a religious objection to someone’s real or perceived sexual orientation, they have a license to bully from lawmakers in Lansing.  This is unacceptable.

Religion should never be used as the basis for bullying.  Doesn’t that go against the “Golden Rule?”  In this day and age we should do everything in our abilities to protect children.  We have seen the devastating results of bullying.  It can lead to ruined lives, dropping out of school, substance abuse, and unsafe behavior.  Should a teacher turn the other cheek when a student is harassed day in and day out because that harassment is on religious grounds?  You have to wonder what sort of religious leader would say bullying is okay.

Lawmakers in Lansing have the opportunity to do the right thing for Michigan’s children.  It is in their power to protect them and give them a positive school experience. It is my hope, and the hope of child welfare and mental health professionals everywhere, that they put politics aside and put the children first.  Let there be no room for doubt, Senate Bill 137 is dangerous.        

We are keeping an eye on Michigan lawmakers.  HRC President Joe Solmonese submitted testimony to the House of Representatives Committee on Education, detailing just how dangerous this law would be.  We hope they put Michigan’s children ahead of politics.   

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