Don't be a bully! Unless it's part of your religion, of course.
Michigan's Senate last week became the latest state legislative body to pass an anti-bullying bill, joining a host of other states that have taken a legal stand in response to the devastating effects that bullying has had on young people around the country.
Seems like good news, right? Except that this bill, unlike comparable efforts in other states, actually says that sometimes, bullying is OK. In the interest of protecting the First Amendment rights of bullies, the bill allows exemptions for “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
The bill still has to make it through Michigan's House of Representatives, where legislators are already targeting the controversial language. Others have spoken out against the bill as well, with a legal scholar claiming it will do nothing to prevent bullying and Washington Post blogger Brad Hirschfield offering some examples of religious loopholes for bullies.
One of the biggest holes in the bill is the opening for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation, which has been the root of many of the high profile bullying cases in the news, including the one that caused the suicide of a Rutgers University student last year. Bullying someone who is gay, under the bill Michigan's Senate passed, is in theory acceptable so long as the bully can say that his religion teaches homosexuality as a sin. It would be deplorable to use this reasoning, but it's not a stretch to think it could happen.
As Catholics, I'd like to think we'd be able to refrain from using our faith as a defense for attacking another person. It is starting to sound like a broken record, but Catholics place the utmost priority on defending the dignity of the human person, no matter how they differ from us. But as often as we've seen Catholics attacking members of their own church for not being "Catholic enough," there's plenty of evidence that this type of behavior certainly can, and does, take place.
Hopefully, common sense will prevail in Michigan and the final law won't have the religious exemption clause. But a greater hope should be that we will all recognize that bullying shouldn't ever be acceptable--not with the exception of those who have certain religious beliefs, but especially for those who are people of faith.