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The Bully Backlash: How the Christian Right Is Attacking Efforts to Help Kids

Even as states and schools try to put in place anti-bullying policies, the Christian right is mobilizing to undo them.

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A national outpouring of disgust at the Michigan legislature's attempt to legitimize faith-based bullying ultimately resulted in the removal of the provision from the bill. But now the lawmakers of a Tennessee plan to make good on the loss. In what must count as an  extraordinarily perverse way to mark the suicide of Jacob Rogers, they have introduced a bill that follows the trail blazed by the Michigan lawmakers, with some inconsequential changes in language, to open up a loophole for verbal bullying that is motivated by religious prejudices. Given that the Tennessee legislature approved Bill 368, which is intended to bring "creationism" into the state's biology classrooms, on 26 March, the prospects for this anti-anti-bullying bill have to be considered good.

In Washington,  Senator Al Franken and Representative Jared Polis have put forward the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to anti-discrimination law. The legislation recently won the signed backing of 70 civil rights and educational groups, ranging from the ACLU to the American Federation of Teachers. But the Christian right is up in arms. According to rightwing pundits and bloggers, the nefarious purpose of Franken's and Polis's bill is the so-called "homosexualization" of students.  Concerned Women for America says it aims at "promoting acceptance of LGBT behavior".

Many people will undoubtedly conclude that these efforts by the anti-anti-bully lobby are lacking in Christian charity or common sense. But their proponents do have a point that we should carefully consider. To be sure, the notion that the anti-bullying initiatives are driven by "the homosexual agenda" – a phrase that conjures the vision of gay hordes aiming to seduce children into lives of abomination – is preposterous. But the sense that anti-bullying initiatives involve teaching children "acceptance" of LGBT peers, to use the word of the Concerned Women of America, is not. If you want the school to tell students to stop harassing kids like Jacob Rogers  because they are gay, you have to let them know, at some point, that the school thinks it's OK to be gay.

As Americans, we all like to believe that we can establish laws and policies that are neutral with respect to religious belief. But the truth is, we can't, and we don't. Sometimes, we have to make a choice. We have already made such choices – obviously, the right ones – with respect to race or ethnicity. No state or school would or should entertain for a moment the notion that it is acceptable for students to tell those of another race or ethnicity that they are inferior and degenerate because their  religion teaches them – as some religions in America did, until quite recently – that certain races are less worthy before God than others. Maybe, it's time to come clean about sexual preference.

We can spend long hours parsing the complexities of social and cultural influences on human sexual behavior, and we can devote still more hours to lamenting the reductive crudeness with which human sexuality is coralled in tidy categories. But the fact is that for most people, sexual orientation is no more a matter of choice than place of birth or color of skin. And even if we were to suppose that, for some of the people, some of the time, it  is a matter of choice, the fact remains that it is not the kind of choice that breaks anybody's leg or picks anybody's pocket. It  is OK to be gay. And it's time to let the bullies know that. 

Katherine Stewart is the author of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children" (PublicAffairs). Visit her Web site or follow her on Twitter @kathsstewart.

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