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Bullying As Religious Practice

November 11, 2011

[Trigger warning for descriptions of bullying and expressions of bigotry]

Imagine a sixth grader cowering in the locker room.  Six or eight guys are crowded around him and chant, “Faggot!  Faggot! Burn in Hell!”  One would hope that a teacher would break it up and the bullies would all be called into the principal’s office.  But if the Michigan GOP gets its way, they’d have a defense.  Under the bullying statute as the Republicans want it amended, they’d raise their religious freedom to push their religious views on the minority, under an explicit carve-out:

“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.”

Would that happen?  Yes.  The Michigan GOP want, and are willing to fight for, a right to bully gay kids, under the umbrella of free exercise of religion.  And there are plenty of religious leaders that are willing to make their religious-tinged hatred of the GLBT community just that strident, just that bare.  Would there be kids crowded around a sixth grader shouting “faggot!”  Yes.  There would, there will, there are, and some people believe that this is a protected right.  A right!  To bully!

Nobody’s arguing for a right to hit the kid, of course.  But they won’t have to hit the kid to do the damage.  Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can break your spirit.  Lots of schools have very active, and very conservative, evangelical groups.  These are the schools where the peer pressure causes dozens of hundreds of girls to sign purity pledges.  Do you think, at those schools, the kids might walk past the might-be-gay kids in the lunch line reciting Bible verses about hell and damnation; staring the targets down; following them across the bus platform shouting about how even the perverted can find salvation by giving up their perversions? Cyberstalking them on Facebook and Formspring and then following them at school so they feel intimidated, making statements of their “religious belief”?

The bill’s sponsor in the Michigan Senate said he doesn’t believe that the provision allows someone to tell a kid he’s going to hell:

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the bill’s sponsor, said the intent of the bill is to get each district to write an anti-bullying policy within six months.

Asked if he thinks the religious provision could, for example, be used to exempt a student who tells a gay classmate he is going to go to hell, Jones said, “I don’t believe for one minute that is the intent of this legislation.”

“Certainly a child should not be allowed to go up to another child and say he’s going to hell,” Jones said.

It’s possible that Senator Jones is a fool, but I suspect he’s a liar.  That’s exactly what it is designed to do: protect students who tell the kids they think are gay that they’re going to hell, or will die of AIDS, or whatever nasty thing they can think up.

And it’s not just the children.  It covers the administration.  Remember Constance McMillen?  From a school in Mississippi where the administration was complicit in holding a fake prom for Constance and a half-dozen other kids while parents set up a “private” prom for everyone else that excluded her?  When you read this exception language, the words, the words that allow a “school employee” of “school volunteer” to state a “sincerely held religious belief or moral view”, think about that school administration.  Or think about these people.  Or these people

Think like a smart and flexible bigotted adult trying to use that freedom: can’t religious belief cover factual statements?  Could a teacher repeat AFA disinformation, or its ilk?  Made-up statistics that gay men die of AIDS at absurd rates or are pedophiles or marry box turtles or whatever unsubstantiated nonsense the right wing hate machine is churning out now?  A teacher could try to terrify and misinform an impressionable, gender nonconforming middle school kid, one who hasn’t even figured out a sexual orientation or gender identity yet, under the protection of a “sincere religious belief” that the bullshit was true.  Just like the right wing’s sincere religious belief that hormonal contraception kills fertilized eggs, and just like the sincere religious belief (I’ve heard it said) that a live infant was once sacrificed at a Marilyn Manson concert.  (Before that it was probably Ozzy, and before that it was probably Alice Cooper.)

I know bullying.  I’ve seen what bullies can do when the school turns a blind eye.  What happens in a community where the bullies know they have the support of the parents, the church, and the law?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2011 1:23 pm

    Wouldn’t such practice as you are describing fall under harassment statutes anyways? Also, it looks like this is an amendment to a new law. Aren’t schools in Michigan already empowered to have school policies that punish such bullying? It sounds like the Senator is simply weakening a new law, not actually providing a defense for kids who are punished under existing or even new school policies.


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