Senate Bill 137 Allows for Religious Exemptions to Anti-Bullying Policies
WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, submitted testimony today to the Michigan House of Representatives Committee on Education in opposition to Senate Bill 137. The Bill, which passed in the state Senate last week and now heads to the state House of Representatives, allows for religious exemptions to the law. 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.” . 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.
“Bullying is not harmless teasing or ‘kids being kids’; it is a pervasive targeting of a student often based on his or her identity,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese in his testimony. “Senate Bill 137 falls short of protecting youth in several ways. On its face, the bill appears to be motivated by the need to protect students, but it actually contains dangerous flaws. If left unchecked, the proposed legislation would leave Michigan’s youth unprotected from bullying and harassment and teachers vulnerable to a conflict between state and federal law.”
Currently 14 states have enacted laws prohibiting harassment and/or bullying of elementary and high school students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Thirty others have laws prohibiting bullying in schools but list no categories of protection. Nationally, bullying of LGBT students is pervasive. Over 85% of LGBT students report being harassed because of their sexual or gender identity and the suicide rate for LGBT students continues to be 3-4 times higher than that of their straight counterparts.
“Bullying is an epidemic problem across the country,” Solmonese added. “Religion should never be used as a license to bully. Lawmakers in Lansing have the opportunity to do the right thing for Michigan’s children by removing religious exemptions to the law and adding enumerated categories protecting LGBT students. It is in their power to protect all students 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.
Click here to read HRC President Joe Solmonese’s entire testimony to the Michigan House Committee on Education.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.