Monday, March 12, 2012

       Religious Exemption in Michigan’s Anti- Bullying Bill

       On November 2nd  , 2011 a majority Republican controlled senate in Michigan passed an anti-bulling bill.  According to an article in Time magazine online (, this bill did not require school districts to report bulling incidents, did not include provisions for enforcement or teacher training, and did not hold administrators accountable if they failed to act. The article states that “Michigan is already one of only three states in the country that have not enacted any form of anti-bullying legislation. For more than a decade, Democrats in the state legislature have fought their Republican colleagues and social conservatives such as Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, who referred to anti-bullying measures as “a Trojan horse for the homosexual agenda.” In that time, at least ten Michigan students who were victims of bullying have killed themselves”.
The Democrats in the senate had asked for particular students that were prone to being bulled to be enumerated, such as racial and religious minorities, and gay students, however the Republican voted against this inclusion, in favor for the addition of “special” protections for religiously- motivated bulling, all 11 Democratic senators voted against the legislation, but they were outnumbered and the bill ( was passed.
Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer accused her colleagues of creating a “blueprint for bullying”. “As passed today,” said Whitmer, “bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”
The Republican argument was that the addition of this “special” protection for religion was done so as to not limit the first Amendment guarantees of religious freedom to express ones religious beliefs.

Ironically the bill is named “Matt’s Safe School Law”, after Matt Epling, a Michigan student that had committed suicide after prolonged bulling at school. After examining this bill, I am left wonder who exactly does it protect. I believe the bill just creates a legal loop hole for allowing students and even the school employees to get away with bulling. The social conservatives have previously unsuccessfully attempted for an inclusion of a provision that would protect religious freedom when congress expanded the definition motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation hate crime. (
I believe the main constitutional issues  that should come into play in this situation should be the civil rights of the victims (the children being bullied).  Civil rights include the ensuring of peoples' physical integrity and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, national origin, age. Therefore should laws infringing on the civil rights of citizens get passed? The civil rights belonging to a person by reason of citizenship include the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the 13th and 14th amendments, and subsequent acts of Congress including the right to legal and social and economic equality. The civil right of an individual is protected under the Equal protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which, provides that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."[
 I do not believe the “free exercise clause” of The First Amendment should be applicable when it causes harm or violates the civil liberties of others, especially children.

The main/ landmark cases from U.S. Supreme Court seem to be:
Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision which precipitated the dismantling of racial segregation in United States education.
 Reed v. Reed (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that laws arbitrarily requiring sex discrimination violated the Equal Protection Clause


Rebekah said...

I have to agree with this post and Senator Whitmer. This bill protects bullies not victims and seems more about adults legitimizing their own prejudices than caring about what happens in schools.

In Reynolds v. United States, the court held that freedom of religion allows an individual to believe what they choose but these same beliefs can not be practiced if they go against a legitimate law. Ensuring our country's children can receive an education without threats and abuses to their physical and/or mental health is a legitimate reason to stop this practice of "moral bullying."

Gabe AB said...

This is a terrible miscarriage of law. Fortunately it will be corrected because of our court system, but the backers of this bill should be ashamed of themselves. While the First Amendment provides freedoms of Religion, Speech, etc. It does not give unwavering protections. The cliche example is that you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater, but there are other examples as well. Making threats is purely speech, but can also be a felony. These precedents matter, and they should have been enough to ensure that nothing as foolish as this bill could pass, but they will be cited by opponents of the bill. It may take time, but this will not stay on the books forever.