Michigan’s Controversal Bullying Bill Drops Religious Exemption
LGBT and Muslim activists are voicing relief that a Michigan antibullying bill will be changed so it no longer includes an exception for expressions of “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
The state Senate earlier this month passed a version of the bill including that language, which some observers thought amounted to a license to bully LGBT people or members of minority faiths. The House last week approved a version without that exception, and Republican senator Rick Jones, who backed the provision, agreed Monday to drop it from the Senate version, Religion News Service reports. The bill requires all Michigan school districts to have antibullying policies.
“Senate Republicans only wanted to protect free speech, Jones said, and never intended to create a religious exception for bullying,” the news service reports. “Had he foreseen the controversy, Jones said he would have removed the problematic language.”
Still, the legislation does not go far enough because it does not list characteristics, such as sexual orientation, that might make students vulnerable to bullying, Michael Gregor (pictured) of the LGBT group Equality Michigan told the news service. “We are grateful that this legislation moves forward without the license to bully based on an outrageous religious exception, but that said, it won’t be effective,” he said.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also said such a listing would strengthen the bill but still expressed relief that the controversial language will be excised. “It would have been a disaster,” he said.