Equal Rights For Bullies: Religious Right Comes To The Defense Of ‘Faith-Based’ Harassment

Religious Right groups seek room for 'faith-based' bullying in the public schools.

If you’re the parent of young or teenaged kids, you’re probably concerned about bullying. It’s one of those unpleasant facts of life that just about everyone who has children must eventually confront.

Since children spend much of their time in school, those institutions are the focal point for anti-bullying efforts. Thankfully, the national conversation over this issue has become a lot more serious in recent years, and many schools have adopted anti-bullying policies.

This has alarmed the Religious Right. Groups like Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are worried that fundamentalist Christian young people in public schools won’t be able to properly harass gays, atheists and non-Christians if anti-bullying policies spread. So they’ve more or less formed a pro-bullying caucus designed to shoot down as many of the policies as possible.

A new FOF-ADF salvo takes the form of a document called the “Anti-Bullying Policy Yardstick,” which purports to help public school officials formulate policies that respect the rights of Christian students. In reality, FOF and the ADF are seeking to gut anti-bullying policies by making them utterly ineffective.

I was struck by a number of things about the document:

It attempts to carve out an exemption for protected “religious” bullying. In several states, Religious Right groups have attempted to exempt bullying and verbal harassment based on sincere religious beliefs. In other words, a fundamentalist Christian kid can harass a gay student as much as he wants as along as he sincerely believes what he is saying. Some yardstick there!

It seeks to gut reporting requirements. One way to combat bullying is to require that the people in charge – mainly teachers – report it when they see it. FOF and the ADF recommend dropping this requirement entirely. They claim this will somehow protect teachers from liability. In fact, it does just the opposite.

It advises school officials to ignore what kids do after hours or online. According to FOF and the ADF, school officials have no authority to respond to what students say or do online after school hours because this is free speech. So, if a bunch of students are using Facebook’s chat feature to discuss how they plan to beat the tar out of Phil the next day because he’s gay and a teacher gets wind of this, she’s just supposed to throw up her hands and say, “Oh well, that’s free speech!”

It tells schools they have no right to educate bullies about why their behavior is wrong. According to FOF and the ADF, such “re-education” is bad because it is designed to “change the way they think.” Pardon my bluntness, but if young people have the belief that they can bully others, they need to change the way they think – and if they won’t, they should be expelled.

It warns schools to avoid anti-bullying materials produced by “homosexual activist groups.” Since many of the young people who are bullied in schools are gay (or perceived to be gay), it seems that the “homosexual activist groups” might have some special expertise in this area. Perhaps schools should listen to them.

What’s most offensive about the FOF-ADF document is that it purports to outline the differences between “good” anti-bullying policies and “bad” ones. In fact, these organizations don’t support any anti-bullying efforts at all. Schools that adopt their suggestions would be left with toothless policies that give budding fundamentalist bigots license to harass anyone they want. If they resort to physical violence, the school might be able to stop them – maybe.

And remember, this is being done in the name of the Christian faith. I’m very familiar with the “faith-based” initiative, but faith-based bullying is something new entirely. I don’t claim to be a theologian, but I doubt Jesus would approve.

P.S. "The Wall of Separation" will be on hiatus on Monday. Happy Labor Day!