Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fat Kids To Be Legally Bullied: The Danger of Excessive "Free" Speech

Over the past week,  the 'license to bully' bill that may be considered by the Tennessee Legislature, has been blowing up in the media. From CNN (where the awesome Michelle Bliss from the Tennessee Equality Project defended the rights of students) to bloggers, newspapers, and magazines, countless people have weighed in with their thoughts about the proposed legislation. Today, in an article in The Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer, a noted libertarian, weighed in on the matter, giving the typical libertarian response regarding protected speech. To her, anti-bullying laws are a potentially dangerous affront to First Amendment rights, because it would criminalize the religious and moral beliefs of American citizens. 


I take issue with Ms. Kaminer's position in several ways. In her analysis she states that, 
You shouldn't have to study this language (of the Tennessee bill) to recognize that opposing it means supporting infringements on First Amendment rights and punishing students who express religious, philosophical, or political ideas that others find discomforting or unpleasant.
First off, Ms. Kaminer is confusing" religious, philosophical, or political ideas that some may find unpleasant" with harassment. There is a fundamental and clear difference between the two.  An example of this could be found using the African-American community. A pro-life individual could have a political position regarding abortion and its impact upon the African-American community, and that would be protected speech. Yes, labeling a woman's right to choose as "racial genocide" might be construed as discomforting and unpleasant, but it is just that, political speech that one finds unpleasant. It is not denigrating or harassing a people group because of a characteristic that that group shares. On the other hand, if that same person started yelling racial slurs at an African-American person, that would cross the line from 'discomfort' or 'unpleasantness' to actual harassment, because it is now the individual who is being attacked. 


Harassment occurs when the bully moves from attacking an "idea" to attacking an individual or a characteristic of that individual. It occurs within our school system when a child is called out, not because of a political position that they hold, but instead because of whom they are, whatever race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or weight they may have. 


An another example: Michele Obama has proposed legislation that deals with childhood obesity, by promoting healthy food choices and alternatives to fast food. That is a political position, and a policy that can be debated upon its merits. Yet, under the proposed legislation in Tennessee, not only would a discussion of the political ramifications of the First Ladies program be allowed, but an overweight schoolkid could be bullied for his weight, because the bully could say that the overweight kid is a "glutton" and violating the biblical standards of self-control.   


Ms. Kaminer then goes on to assert that the proposed legislation is actually a good thing for LGBT activists and students in Tennessee because it, 
 "would also protect the rights of gay students to advocate for same-sex marriage, equal employment laws, health care equality, or gay adoptions, among other issues -- even if their advocacy is unpopular and considered by some "unpleasant."  
Though Ms. Kaminer may mean well, and her defense of freedom of speech (an essential American right) is admirable; it is unfortunately quite misguided. As shown within the above paragraph, Ms. Kaminer does not understand the difference between advocating for a political position (which, by the way, I do not see as having an relevance in a school system), to harassment. The former is of course protected by the First Amendment; but for the second, one is hard pressed to find justification for such protections.  Instead of having any legitimacy, the allowance of bullying based upon ones "religious, political, or philosophical" belief, has only one purpose. Give students the right to demean, denigrate, and cause direct pain to countless children within our school system. 


And that my readers is why Tennessee's 'license to bully' bill MUST fail. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christians And Jews To Be Persecuted In Tennessee?

In this coming legislative session, the Tennessee Legislature may consider a bill which would allow bullying if such bullying is based upon a bully's "expression of religious, philosophical, or political views as long as such expression does not include a threat of physical harm to a student or of damage to a student's property". 


The legislation, as proposed, is supposed to correct the "harm" that anti-bullying policies may place upon students who believe that being gay is "against God". The bill, heavily lobbied by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, is supposed to "make sure [the law] protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality." 

Not only does this bill establish a special right for religious individuals to persecute, harass, and demean LGBT people, but it also can be turned on its head, and harm the people that is is supposedly crafted to protect. As the legislation says, bullying is acceptable as long as it is based upon a students "religious, philosophical, or political beliefs". Thus, if a Christian was bullying a Jewish person, calling them a "Christ killer" and a "worthless heathen who is going to hell", that is completely acceptable, because it is based in religion. Conversely, Christians can also be bullied by their peers for believing in the "fairy tails" of Christianity, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection. Even African-Americans can be bullied, for the bully could claim that their distaste for African-Americans is based upon the curse of Ham contained in the book of Genesis. 

This is why this bill failed in Michigan, because instead of giving the bully special protection for their bullying, the bully was open to persecution himself. The failure of this bill in Michigan give an inkling for the real reason for such legislation (give Christians special rights to make others feel worthless), yet when the unintended consequences of the legislation are made apparent, lawmakers want to distance themselves from the "religious persecution" bill. 

After a lot of media criticism, the Senate sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, has decided to "narrow" the bills scope. I wonder what such "narrowing" entails, and if that narrowing will give specific license to bully LGBT Tennesseans. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rick Santorum - Allied with a LGBT Group?

In both a little noticed article on conservative website Redstate.com, as well as one sentence in a POLITICO analysis of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's lobbying work, reporters have discovered an interesting fact: one of the organizations which Senator Santorum has served with operates a clinic for LGBT people in Minnesota. As uncovered by Erick Erickson at Redstate.com, 
Universal Health Services, on whose board he sat until he left in June of this year, runs a PRIDE Institute in Minnesota. It’s the “nation’s first and leading provider of mental health service to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.”
Ironically, given Santorum’s strong comments on “homosexual acts,” according to the PRIDE Institute, its exclusive focus on the gay community is necessary because “the society in which we live marginalizes the LGBT community” with “negative covert and overt messages about the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”
In fact, the PRIDE Institute brands the kind of language Santorum used “heterorsexism.”
As Erickson further notes, it seems as though Santorum's 'values' are readily sacrificed on the alter of the almighty dollar. I wonder what his social conservative base in Iowa ( and other states to come), will think about his long participation in an organization which actively promotes the "homosexual lifestyle". 


Now, some defenders of Senator Santorum may whitewash his participation in this corporation, and assert that he resigned because of the direction that the company was going (aka. funding LGBT Institutes and pro-choice hospitals). Yet the facts would not support such a position. In a press release regarding Senator Santorum's departure from the organization in June, the CEO of Universal Health Services Alan B. Miller, stated that the reason why Senator Santorum left the company was because of his announced candidacy for President, 
"We appreciate Senator Santorum's service on our Board of Directors and he has been a valuable asset to our Company...We certainly understood that should Senator Santorum formally announce and initiate his campaign for President, it would result in his departure from the Board given the substantial focus and effort required to achieve that goal. However, Rick's guidance and stewardship will be sorely missed."
If Santorum does well in Iowa, I predict that things will get very interesting with him, very fast. 


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