Bullying is a universal human phenomenon. Throughout history and the world, the strong have taken advantage of the weak, the rich have abused the poor, and the more physically attractive have disparaged the less attractive.
On the playground, bullying is brutal and all too familiar. The image of a bully terrorizing a smaller, weaker student is burned into our psyche, and the scene rarely ends with the bully getting the punch in the nose he deserves.
Schoolyard bullying is an equal-opportunity system of abuse and intimidation. No one class of student can lay claim to the most disfavored status. Children harass other children for any and every reason including, but not limited to, being fat, skinny, short, tall, freckled, pimpled, awkward, poor, too smart, not smart enough, not good at sports, and poorly dressed.
In fact, bullying has made national headlines in connection with some tragic suicides, the most recent of which involved two teenage girls from Minnesota who killed themselves because of relentless harassment and ridicule related to their physical appearance. One of the girls suffered simply because she had red hair. And we are all aware of the young man from Rutgers University who killed himself after his sexual encounter with another young man was made public on the Internet. These are horrible consequences of bullying.
These events and others have spurred national concern and outrage, leading to various calls for stronger anti-bullying policies and legislation. Some of those leading the charge are activist organizations dedicated to promoting, normalizing, and celebrating homosexual behavior. And some have taken the opportunity to capitalize on the misfortune of others to advance patently partisan goals which do not meet the real needs of students. Such opportunists should be ashamed, but they aren’t.
Many of the proposed policies have less to do with protecting students and much more to do with advocating for the normalization of homosexual behavior. Under the guise of guarding against student intimidation, these proposals label all debate about homosexual activity “bullying” and seek to eradicate it.
Schools should be safe places, but they should not be sanitized and scrubbed of all differences of opinion. A school is the quintessential marketplace of ideas, yet our schools are at risk of becoming social engineering laboratories that only inculcate the teachings of the elite left.
There’s another problem with these proposals. Historically, our public schools have been organized and managed at the most local level: school boards were filled with elected community officials tasked with implementing curricula consistent with the values of the community. This is as it should be.
But federal intervention in this process has long been on the upswing, and now national advocacy organizations are lobbying for yet more federal regulation, this time in the form of anti-bullying legislation. So instead of local folks dealing with local problems in a way they deem appropriate and effective, some advocacy groups seek to circumvent that process and put it in the hands of federal agents.
In order to counter the problems with current anti-bullying proposals, the Alliance Defense Fund, for which I work, has recently introduced a completely different type of anti-bullying policy to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The ADF is not advocating for the implementation of anti-bullying policies per se, but if local authorities seek to promulgate anti-bullying initiatives, we hope that they will adopt one that protects all students, not just a select few. The policy would put the decision-making power in the hands of those who actually live in the affected communities and out of the hands of detached federal bureaucrats.
While bullying is harmful and always has been, it is an even greater harm that anti-bullying policies have been hijacked by a political agenda for the purpose of promoting homosexual behavior and insulating it from public debate and discussion. Forbidding debate about homosexual behavior in schools attacks our country’s rich tradition of encouraging the open examination of ideas. Sometimes that discourse is uncomfortable and even offensive, testing the very foundation of our identity. But in the end, it is the only way for the truth to prevail.
We should not confuse acts of intimidation and violence with legitimate debate, on or off the playground. And we should not shroud censorship and political correctness with anti-bullying policies designed to intimidate opposition into silent submission.
Brian Raum is senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.