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Posted on Sun, Nov 20, 2011 : 7:34 a.m.

Senate version of Michigan anti-bullying would allow an excuse to bully

By Guest Column

I'd like to preface this, by saying I know what your thinking and you're right. Yeah, I'm a kid, I'm only 20, I'm still in college and haven't gotten my feet wet yet in the "real world." And it's true, but at the same time, I think I have a pretty interesting perspective. Frankly, I think about things some readers are too old to think about and some readers are too young to understand.

To get to the point, I am writing about Michigan State Senate Bill 137.


Gabrielle Boyer

In college, you are supposed to re-create yourself. To be anything you want to be, the best you that you can be. I don’t think that’s true. To tell you the truth, I will always be the “Amazon” of Belleville High School. Even though I am three years out of high school I still am self-conscious about my height, something I was teased relentlessly for. I cringe at events I have to wear heels to, and feel a sense of loss when guys pass me up at parties for shorter girls. Even though I got off pretty light, I was still a victim of bullying, something that stays with me even today. That's why the events of the last week has disappointed me so much.

On Nov. 2nd, the Michigan State Senate passed bill 137 -- which requires school districts to adopt an anti-bullying policy. Forty-seven other states already have an anti-bullying policy, so Michigan is already late to the game. What makes Michigan stand out the most, however, is a clause added by Michigan Senate Republicans. The anti-bullying act is in effect as long as “… [it] does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil & parent or guardian.”

My primary concern is the logic here. For one, this seems like a positive thing to add, because if you look at it purely, there isn’t a religious or moral doctrine that encourages cruelty or violence to others. But, and it’s a big but, that’s not how a child thinks -- that’s not how adults think, because that’s not how the world is. If I were brought up in a White Supremacist household, I would have the moral conviction to rid my class of all my non-white Christian students, by any means necessary. As a Muslim student, I could tell a Christian she was an "dirty infidel who could burn in hell.".

A lawmaker would argue that this is hyperbole, but isn't that the spirit of the language? Speaking of language, how can we or any governing body, examine what the difference is between a sincerely held belief and an excuse to bully? This clause isn’t limiting bullying; it’s providing a method for children to get away with it.

In 2002, Matt Epling of East Lansing killed himself after reported hazing incident. This bill was supposed to be Matt’s Safe Law. Would this law as is saved Matt? Or any other kid like him? I honestly don’t think so. This loophole, if you can even call it a loophole provides a free pass for bullying on the basis of constitutional rights. It is written in our Constitution that we have the right of life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. So I ask you, where does the line get drawn? Because I am damn sure that bullying infringes upon constitutional rights of others.

No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, this is wrong. Every child should be safe from bullying, and no child should be a repeat of Matt Epling.

This 20-year-old kid is looking into her future. I see my children, my post-graduate degree, a steady good job and an active role as a citizen. What I don't see is Michigan, because frankly, legislation like this makes me want to leave. Michigan isn't investing in it's future and it's driving the youth away to a place that will. We aught to be ashamed and we need to fix this.

Editor’s note: Republican State Sen. Rick Jones, the author of the Senate bill, announced this past week he would scrap his version of the legislation and urge the Senate to adopt a House version that deletes the controversial clause that exempts bullying from the law based on “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

Gabrielle Boyer lives in Bellville and is the public relations chair of the University of Michigan Dearborn College Democrats of America. She was an intern last summer in Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's Office in the department of Film, Culture and Special Events.



Mon, Nov 21, 2011 : 7:38 a.m.

Good for you, Gabrielle! You're on the right track. And you're a beautiful young woman. One day, I hope it's soon, you'll appreciate how tall you are and so will a lot of others. I envy you. I'm only 5'0, was always called 'Shorty' (no big deal) and I can't reach anything on store shelves or in my own kitchen. I always have to ask someone who is tall! In this day and age, you wouldn't believe how many people still look down at me and tell me, "You are SO short"!, as if I hadn't noticed. Good Luck!


Sun, Nov 20, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

As a Christian, my firm and convicted belief is that we should all have a pity party for the muslim in high heels who thinks Christians will all burn in hell.


Sun, Nov 20, 2011 : 8:10 p.m.

Excellent op ed that highlights the weakness in the bill which gives a free pass to the worst potential bullies: i.e those convinced god is on their side and are therefore impervious to guilt.


Sun, Nov 20, 2011 : 7:51 p.m.

I would like to point out a couple things about Ms. Boyer's perspective. First, the section of the statute that she quotes as: "… [it] does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil & parent or guardian," speaks to a "statement" thus her concern about white Supremacists ridding her class of "non-white Christian students" would not be protected or allowable under this statute. There is a big difference between a statement and "ridding" which requires much more than a statement. Another point she brings up is somewhat scary. "As a Muslim student, I could tell a Christian she was an "dirty infidel who could burn in hell." Is she implying all Muslims feel this way? I certainly do not think so. So such a statement should not qualify as a deeply held religious belief. And is she promoting prior restraint of speech? Would a student saying this amount to bullying? Would students no longer be able to say, "go to hell" to another student, or would that be okay if they are not Muslim? If she is concerned about this, perhaps the best thing to do before writing an editorial would be to contact the legislators office and find out what the legislative intent was in regard to this part of the Senate bill and see if her examples would be protected by the Senate bill version. Finally, the phrase right to life liberty and pursuit of happiness is not in the Constitution, it is in the Declaration of Independence.

Ron Granger

Sun, Nov 20, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

I think teaching coping skills is far more important than trying to legislate "PC" speech. From that perspective, leglislation like this is ill-conceived and pointless. It is a barrier to preparing students for the harsh realities of the world. You cannot legislate kindness. The real shocker is going to be the corporate world, and at-will employment. You might be surprised at how brutal some environments are, and how little "coddling" there is. A lot of leaders won't make time for nuturing fragile egos. Sometimes educators must "bully" students to motivate them, or even take them down a notch. One the best high school instructors I ever had - a WWII bomber pilot - would do it to jocks who had holier than though attitudes and were disruptive. Is it okay to bully a bully?

Jim Toy

Sun, Nov 20, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

Thank you, Ms. Boyer. Concerning: "Every child should be safe from bullying, and no child should be a repeat of Matt Epling" -- Absolutely. Everyone of any age must be safe from bullying. Bullying is perpetrated in our homes, our schools, our religious insitutions, in the workplace, in hospitals, in senior residential institutions, in governmental entities. Nations bully other nations. We all must address these inhumane behaviors.