Religious Right Groups Undercut Anti-Bullying Programs In Schools

Two leading Religious Right groups have joined forces in an effort to stop public schools from adopting policies designed to crack down on bullying.

Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in August announced the publication of the “Anti-Bullying Policy Yardstick,” a document that purports to help public school officials formulate policies that respect the rights of Christian students.

Critics charged that the “yardstick” is really an effort to gut anti-bullying policies by making them less effective.

The document attempts to carve out exemptions for bullying if it’s based on religious rationales. It also recommends dropping requirements that teachers and other school officials report any cases of bullying or suspected bullying that they encounter.

FOF and the ADF argue that public schools should not attempt to curb bullying if it occurs after hours through the use of email or social networking sites – so-called “cyber-bullying.” It also insists that public schools have no right to “re-educate” bullies, arguing that such efforts attempt to “change the way they think.”

The document concludes by asserting that many anti-bullying policies are an attempt at political indoctrination. It warns schools to avoid anti-bullying materials produced by “homosexual activist groups.”

This isn’t the first time Religious Right groups have attempted to block anti-bullying efforts. Last year, the Michigan Senate passed a measure that purported to crack down on bullying but that included an exemption for anyone who acts out of “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” a provision added at the behest of Religious Right groups.

The provision drew widespread criticism from across the country, and the Michigan House of Representatives passed an amended measure that didn’t include it.

The “yardstick” document is also drawing criticism.

Writing on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, Senior Policy Analyst Rob Boston asserted, “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,” Boston continued, “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.”