Two Michigan students started a petition for specific anti-bullying language in a bill under review in Michigan congress. Objections were raised against controversial religious exemptions. These were removed, but there is still no list of things kids can't be bullied for. In light of recent bullying-related suicides, Michigan's law takes on added significance. Here are details about the anti-bullying legislation and the student-led petition.
Two Ann Arbor, Mich., students, Katy Butler, an 11th-grader and Carson Borbely, an 8th-grader, filed a petition with Change.org, an online activist group recently. The petition, which has over 53,300 signatures, wants tougher, clearer wording placed in the anti-bullying law. Specifically, they want the law to state characteristics that students may not bully each other about. This list, similar to anti-discrimination laws, enumerates gender, race, creed, religion, ethnic background, disability, physical characteristics and sexual orientation. The petition also seeks to add wording making it mandatory that school officials report bullying incidents to state offices.
Students want protected status for gay rights
Students Butler and Borbely, who filed the petition understand bullying, they say. Both relate stories of violence and cruelty from fellow students. Borbely, who identifies as a transgender male, agrees with Butler, who explains that without clear wording about no-bullying policies, they feel unprotected.
Opponents pushed for protected classes
Michigan democrats had wanted this identification of protected statuses when the senate was first hammering out legislation. They say that anti-bullying legislation which includes lists of characteristics is less likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court. Also, supporters add, it does not leave any loopholes. The law is easier to follow when everyone knows what constitutes bullying.
Controversial "Religion clause"
The version of the anti-bullying bill that Michigan's senate approved contained a hotly-contested "religious and moral exemption". Under this caveat, students could make negative comments against each other, based on religious or moral convictions, as part of their First Amendment rights. If, for example, a Christian student told a gay student that he was going to hell, that would not be bullying, but simply and expression of free speech, the exemption said.
House bill changes
Kevin Epling spoke out against the religious clause. Epling is the father of Matt Epling, an East Lansing youth who took his own life in 2002, after bullying incidents. The bill, called "Matt's Law," is named for Epling's son. Epling, among others, objected to the exemptions calling them a "license to bully." Michigan's House of Representatives last week introduced an amended version of the bill which had deleted the religious exception. Democrats say they plan to work on the bill wording in the next few weeks.
Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes about people, places, events and issues in her home state of "Pure Michigan."