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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Students bullying on religious reasons is approved by Michigan Republican Senate

Michigan State Capitol                                      Image via WikipediaThe Republican super-majority in Michigan's State Senate approved a Anti-Bullying bill that would allow students to bully others, if the harassment is in line with their religious beliefs.

Titled "Matt's Safe School Law" after Matt Eppling, an East Lansing 14-year old student who committed suicide after being bullied by classmates in 2002, the ironically named bill passed 26-11 with all Democrats present voting against it. 

Kevin Eppling, the father of Matt Eppling was appalled that the Republican Super-Majority would name a bill after his late son that would give a "excuse" for students who seek to bully others based on religious guidelines.
"I am ashamed that this could be Michigan's bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a 'bullying is OK in Michigan law,'" Kevin Eppling, Matt's father, wrote in a letter read to Senate Republican during Wednesday's session.
The law includes a section noting it doesn't abridge First Amendment free speech rights or prohibit expression of religious or moral viewpoints. This provision of the bill Democrats and Mr. Eppling fear could be used to justify harassment of gay, lesbian or transgendered students.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to attach an amendment to use Federal discrimination guidelines such as race, gender and sexual preference, be off-limits for bullying Michigan's K-12 public schools students. Policies that have followed the Federal Standard monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Department of Civil Rights have held up better when challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court, state Democrats cited.

State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) who was the Michigan Senate the bill's sponsor, said the intent of the bill is just to get each district to write individual anti-bullying policies. There are 855 public schools districts, 247 public charter school systems and 57 intermediate school district in Michigan as of 2011-12 data provided by the Michigan Department of Education

To be clear, State Sen. Jones would expect that each of the 1,159 districts and charter schools to draft individual policies, for the students they provide educational services within.
"They (Democrats) were upset there were not enumerations in there about gay and transgendered and I don't believe for one minute that is the intent of this legislation," Jones said when asked if he thinks the religious provision could, for example, be used to exempt a student who tells a gay classmate he is going to go to hell from The Detroit News.
"Certainly a child should not be allowed to go up to another child and say he's going to hell," Jones said. 
The legislation as approved allows for a student to tell a classmate they could be subject to eternal afterlife in the negative religious description of "hell" and be covered under the law passed in the Michigan Senate by the Republican super-majority.

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) responded to Republican on the Chamber floor this afternoon, by inserting language that would allow bullying to continue for religious or moral reasons. Sen. Whitmer called “Matt’s Anti-Bullying Law” a step backwards, rather than forward, with protecting Michigan’s students in the classroom.

Michigan is one of three states doesn’t have a public school based Anti-Bullying law on its’ books.

The bill will now go to the Michigan Republican controlled House for either amendments to the legislation or, direct passage in its' current form for Gov. Rick Snyder signature.

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