Friday, November 4, 2011

Not Free to Bully

The Michigan senate's passage of an amendment to an anti-bullying bill that allowed for a religious exemption is drawing criticism.  The full ammended text is as follows:
“This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil and parent or guardian.”
I'm not as convinced as others that this gives open season to bullying.  But I do agree it is very dangerous.  However, Neal McCluskey at CATO apparently doesn't.  He thinks it's an issue of free speech.
"[A]s odious as one might find the religious beliefs of many people, they are entitled to freedom of speech the same as anyone else. That is a basic American right, and all the desire in the world to protect kids from hearing things that might make them feel badly must not change that. Abridge that right, and any speech becomes imperiled if a majority simply deems it unacceptable."

Actually, students aren't as entitled to free speech as anyone else.  Kids in public school do not have the right to say whatever they want to anyone.  It isn't a black/white issue, but courts have consistently found that schools have considerable authority to limit student speech.  It's worth remembering that students are required by law to be in school, and would thus in a sense be "required" to listen to speech that they otherwise would be able to avoid. 

It's also worth remembering that kids can be downright evil to each other, and do things to one another that would get them serious jail time as adults.  Therefore we must have the utmost respect for the vulnerability of innocent students, who often face great peril on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, the worst bullying goes on out of sight of adults, and thus any kind of hate speech has a good chance of merely being the tip of a much more brutal and dangerous iceberg. Allowing verbal bullying to continue is not only cruel to individual students, but it paves the way for the escalation of much worse.

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