On Tuesday, the Michigan Legislature passed a final version of an anti-bullying bill that garnered criticism earlier this month for language that effectively condoned bullying under the guise of religious faith. The religious exemption language compelled the Michigan Catholic Conference to withdraw their support for the bill and drew criticism from state lawmakers who viewed the language as permission to use religion as an excuse for bullying.
Unfortunately the legislature rejected several amendments that would have specified protected groups of people, including LGBT students. Equality Michigan states that while they are thrilled that the religious exemption language has been removed, they are disappointed that the bill failed to enumerate protected groups. In their statement released yesterday, the organization says, “both Oregon and Washington passed weak bills like this one and had to go back and revise them years later when data showed the initial bills had failed. This kind of delay is not an acceptable response to Michigan's bullying crisis.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, one of the most vocal opponents to the religious exemption clause, says that the bill is a good step, but still needs work. In addition to its failure to include specific protected groups, the bill does not contain detailed reporting requirements. Enumeration helps to ensure that all forms of bullying are recognized as such, and specific reporting requirements ensure that all bullying is responded to appropriately. Without specifying protected groups or reporting requirements, anti-bullying measures are weakened and can be applied selectively or ineffectively. All students deserve protection from bullying, which is why these provisions are necessary.