No protected classes?

For years the line has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in — very secretly — was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.

No protected classes, indeed.

It’s important to understand in discussions of anti-bullying policies in our schools just who is asking for special rights. Is it the members of enumerated minority groups, who are often singled out for bullying because they are members of those groups? Or, is it those who seem to argue that bullying for certain enumerated reasons should have protected status?

The remark above was made by the father of Matt Epling, a Michigan high school student who killed himself after being subjected to intense anti-gay bullying (he was perceived to be gay although he was not). Kevin Epling was responding to a question about the Michigan bill named for his son, which was intended to address the endemic bullying that caused him to feel his life was not worth living. As the bill was nearing a vote in the legislature, opponents introduced an amendment that would have excluded from the law those instances of bullying that are alleged to be motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” Kevin Epling characterized the language as “turning an Anti-bullying bill into a ‘Bullying Guide.'”

And that’s exactly what it would have done. The proponents of the language insisted that it only applied to “statements” and that violence or threats of violence would be treated exactly the same way regardless of motivation. But in the real world, there is no bright line between physical assaults and the “statements” that announce their motivation. Further, bullying that is only verbal in form is not acceptable either. Hissing at a fellow student “God hates F*****S, yer gonna BURN in HELL” does not need to be accompanied by a shove into a locker in order to be unacceptable behavior. The proposed Michigan language (and there is a bill with similar language pending in Tennessee) amounted to instructions for getting away with bullying. It would literally have created a protected class for anyone who says their animus is religiously based. Teachers are already reluctant to speak up when they witness anti-gay bullying because of the perception that being gay is “controversial,” and this language would have made the justification for such reluctance explicit. That is what it was designed to do.

Under such a policy, the behavior on display here would be prohibited if motivated by racial bias, but the perpetrators and their apologists would be permitted to argue that it is protected speech if motivated by religious conviction – which in this case it clearly was. And what defines the boundary around what is motivated by religious belief or moral conviction? What would prevent a perpetrator from claiming that their harassment of an interracial couple is motivated by their moral conviction? Or claiming that they have the “right” to convert students of other faiths to their own because their religious doctrine tells them so? The justification of bullying by reason of religious conviction is a nearly unlimited slippery slope.

Those claiming that there should be “no protected classes” because such language creates “special rights” (for whom, exactly? Everyone who has a gender or a sexual orientation?) are standing reality on its head and being disingenuous. The truth is that they are seeking a protected status for themselves.

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