Before last week, Michigan was one of three states without an anti-bullying law. Now, a bill passed by the Michigan Senate would require Michigan public schools to put anti-bullying measures in place. However, the new bill will likely do more harm than good because it includes a provision that prohibits restriction of statements of “sincerely held religious belief(s) or moral conviction(s).” This clause is unacceptable and could potentially excuse certain types of bullying. The Michigan House should not pass the bill and should instead put in place a policy that protects students from all types of bullying.
The bill, which is named after Matt Epling — a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide after being bullied by classmates in 2002 — is called “Matt’s Safe School Law.” It was passed in a party-line vote by the state Senate on Nov. 2. Senate Republicans added the concerning clause before the bill went to a vote, and many people, including the father of the student after whom the bill is named, have spoken out strongly about the potentially negative effects of the legislation.
The bill is especially concerning for students in the LGBT community. Religious beliefs are often cited as rationale behind bullying gay or transgender students. With the proposed law, students could claim bullying is OK because they are simply expressing a religious belief that is opposed to homosexuality. But that is never an excuse for harming another student, and a law that justifies that defense is shameful.
The decision by the Legislature to enact an anti-bullying law is certainly progress. There have been multiple students who have committed suicide in Michigan in the past decade because of bullying at schools. Anti-bullying laws and policies can help to protect these students by clearly outlining what bullying is and how it is handled.
While bullying legislation is needed in the state, an anti-bullying law should prohibit all kinds of bullying and contain no legal exceptions or excuses. School should be a safe environment where students learn to be tolerant and respectful toward all students, regardless of one’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. But the proposed bill could make it easier for students and their parents to defend bullying.
Anti-bullying legislation should be aimed at protecting all students from bullying in school and teaching students who bully that targeting other students is not an acceptable course of action. Like most government debates, the anti-bullying bill came down to a partisan vote. But bullying is not a debatable issue. It’s a safety issue that should not be minimized by petty, partisan disputes. Bullying can be extremely harmful and dangerous, and the state Legislature needs to show a commitment to combating it by putting aside political disagreements and passing a comprehensive anti-bullying law.
The proposed bill began as a positive attempt to fight bullying in Michigan, but the addition of the controversial amendment seriously derailed the effort. There is never a moral or religious justification for students to bully one another, contrary to what the writers of the bill may think. The state House needs to vote down the bill immediately and go back to the drawing board to protect Michigan students from all types of bullying.