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Brandon Schlacht column gets it very wrong on MI anti-bullying legislation

November 3, 2011

Brandon’s characterization of the legislation is ridiculously wrong. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of what he reports.

The bill’s language reaffirming First Amendment-guaranteed free speech rights was inserted specifically to ensure that students are not bullied, or accused of bullying, merely because they exercise their freedom to verbally make statements of religious or moral conviction.

It was likely in response to the Howell High student who last year was ejected from class — by a teacher wearing an anti-bullying t-shirt — because the student dared say that he does not accept homosexual behavior because it violates his religious convictions. The teacher was later reprimanded and suspended for a day for violating the student’s Constitutional rights.

Even Jay Kaplan of ACLU-Michigan agreed that the student’s comments were Constitutionally guaranteed, telling the Associated Press: “We believe, based on those statements — as offensive and upsetting as they were — they were protected speech.”

In other words, a student’s free speech rights cannot be legally censored or muzzled just because someone else who hears his opinion chooses to be offended or upset.

Further, the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2001 unanimously overturned a high school speech code that attempted to ban expressions of opinion just because others find the opinion offensive. Now Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote:

“No court or legislature has ever suggested that unwelcome speech directed at another’s ‘values’ may be prohibited under the rubric of anti-discrimination. By prohibiting disparaging speech directed at a person’s ‘values,’ the policy strikes at the heart of moral and political discourse — the lifeblood of constitutional self-government (and democratic education) and the core concern of the First Amendment. That speech about ‘values’ may offend is not cause for its prohibition.”

Please note that the bill’s language says that verbal “statements” of religious or moral conviction do not constitute bullying. Free speech protections do just that, protect free speech, not physical acts of bullying.
Gary Glenn

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