by DAVID BADASH
Michigan Senate Republicans have passed a bullying bill — not an anti-bullying bill — that actually gives license to bully. In an Orwellian twist, the bill, which passed 26-11, with zero Democratic votes, allows kids to be bullied by anyone: teachers, fellow students, school employees, volunteers and parents, if they can provide a so-called religious or moral reason for their actions, giving the phrase, “the devil made me do it” sufficient validity.
The bill itself amounts to a white collar hate crime against all victims of anti-gay bullying motivated suicide, as it’s named for a Michigan teen who died by suicide as a result of bullying. As one lawmaker, Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer said in an impassioned speech (video below), “the saddest and sickest irony of this whole thing is that it’s called ‘Matt’s Safe School Law’. And after the way that you’ve gutted it, it wouldn’t have done a damn thing to save Matt!”
The bill is named for Matt Epling (photo.)
The Michigan Messenger reports:
In a floor speech Minority Leader in the Senate Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) slammed the Republicans over the amended language.
“Here today you claim to be protecting kids and you’re actually putting them in more danger,” Whitmer said. “But bullying is not OK. We should be protecting public policy that protects kids — all kids, from bullies — all bullies. But instead you have set us back further by creating a blueprint for bullying.”
“Shockingly, Senate Bill 137 will do more harm than good. Senate Republicans left our students behind in favor of partisan politics and passed a bill that actually allows more bullying. Students and parents expect lawmakers to lead the charge against bullying, but instead Republicans made ideology more important than school safety,” said Emily Dievendorf, policy director of Equality Michigan. “Research clearly shows that only states with enumerated bills see a reduction in bullying. We need a bill that mentions the most affected populations and requires statewide reporting of bullying and harassment. SB 137 simply does nothing to reduce bullying in our schools.”
“To the families of the ten reported suicides that were directly linked to bullying and the countless others that have gone unreported, this bill adds insult to injury,” said Senator Glenn Anderson (D-Westland). “I have been working for years to pass legislation to provide a safe school environment for all of our students. This bill goes in the exact opposite direction and in fact provides a license to bully.”
The legislation passed 26-11. It now moves to the Republican-controlled House.
“I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying, when in fact it is a ‘bullying is OK in MI’ law,” said Kevin Epling, an East Lansing parent whose son committed suicide as a result of bullying. His comment was posted on his Facebook page.
In an interview he had more to say.
“For years the line has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in — very secretly — was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions. This line has no purpose within this piece of legislation except to incite ‘religious bigotry’ within our schools. Schools are trying to build more tolerant students and future leaders, not automatons blindly following misguided adult leaders who seek a return to a 1950′s America,” Epling said. “This will only cause unrest in schools and give schools one more thing to deal with rather than trying to solve a problem. Also it is not a very well thought out ploy, as in some areas of the state the tables might be turned on the ‘anointed ones’ they seek to keep from being punished. This is just very wrong and the way it was done was wrong as well. It was bullying at its best.”
The Detroit Free Press notes:
Kevin Epling, whose son Matt Epling killed himself in 2002 after being bullied, said that the added language will allow anyone to bully a student and cite their religious beliefs. He has worked with lawmakers for years to developed anti-bullying legislation.
“This is just unconscionable. This is government-sanctioned bigotry,” said Epling of East Lansing, who said he is “ashamed” that lawmakers added the language at the last minute.
The DFP also notes that the bill addresses cyber-bullying but only when school district owned devices are the tools of the bullying.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Matt Epling died as a result of anti-gay bullying. It is not known what the nature of the bullying was, nor is it known that Matt Epling was gay, nor was there any attempt to suggest he was. Anti-gay bullying can be focused on anyone, regardless of their orientation, but our apologies for not being more clear.