Who would Jesus bully?
Religious exemptions legitimize bullying
Published: Monday, November 28, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 01:11
Earlier this month, the Michigan legislature passed "Matt's Safe School Law." This law was named after Matt Epling, who committed suicide in 2002 just before his freshman year of high school. However, the bill was met with public outcry when supporters realized that Senate Republicans in Michigan had added a clause that, far from outlawing bullying, created a blueprint for bullying.
The clause stated that schools could not create anti-bullying policies that prohibited bullying in cases where the bully was expressing "a statement of sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."
In other words, all bullies have to do is claim that their religion tells them another kid is deserving of the assault – for whatever reason – and nothing can be done to stop them. Kevin Epling, Matt's father, called the move "government sanctioned bigotry."
Democratic Michigan Congresswoman Gretchen Whitmer recognized how ludicrous such an exemption is.
"It further endangers [students] by legitimizing excuses for tormenting a student," she said. "The saddest and sickest irony of this whole thing is that it's called ‘Matt's Safe School Law'. After the way you've gutted it, it wouldn't have done a damn thing to save Matt."
Following the outraged public response, the Republican responsible for the carve-out agreed to drop the language from the bill. The fact that so many in Michigan's legislature found legitimacy in making an exemption for religious intimidation illustrates a sad reality.
The religious exception was most likely a thinly veiled attempt to protect anti-gay bullying – and possibly anti-Muslim bullying, too. While Matt wasn't gay, according to a statement released by his family, we do know that a startling number of teens who commit suicide do identify as gay; according to thetrevorproject.org, LGBT teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than others.
"Sincerely held religious belief" does not make the bullying and subsequent suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer okay, nor would a "sincerely held moral conviction" have made an assault on Matt or any other student acceptable.
Equality is a principle that should be applied to all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. In doing so, we must equally apply restrictions. Bullying, no matter the reason, is always wrong. No one should get a pass – not even those who claim to bully in the name of a God.