Today's post is not funny. It is not meant to be funny. It will not be universally accepted. It may even offend some of you. But I hope that you will respect the fact that these are MY opinions and beliefs. And I hope that it will make you think.
Bullying is a very hot topic these days. Michigan just passed a law, or an amendment to a law, or something that says (according to the media and every liberal friend on Facebook) that it is okay to bully someone as long as you do it with your religious beliefs as a basis. That isn't really what the law says. The law says that if my religion says that something is a sin, then I have the right to say that as well without being accused of bullying as long as I don't direct it at an individual or group. If I am a Muslim, I can say "According to Allah, pork is unclean, and therefore those who eat are unclean" as long as I don't say "Hey Brian, you are going to spend an eternity in hell because you're eating those pork rinds and are an infidel." Or I can say "According to the Bible, sexual immorality is sinful." As long as I don't say "Hey Jane, you are going to hell because you're not a virgin and are therefore an abomonation to the Lord." Opponents of the law, mostly the liberal left, are foaming at the mouth over the wording of this bill that they claim gives kids, teachers, and administrators a blueprint for bullying as long as they hide behind their religion of choice. I disagree.
I see a bigger problem.
What this law does is further polarize the public. If the law is left as it is, extremists will, in fact, use it as a platform to promote hate through religious beliefs (like the idiots at Westboro Baptist Church). If it is changed, then the lawmakers have essentially gagged everyone of faith from expressing themselves and their beliefs openly, therefore infringing upon their right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Unfortunately, those who are most directly effected are the Christians. Christ was against bullying -- He "spoke the truth in love" but he was never cruel. What this bill has tried to do is give that right to individuals who follow Him -- the right to speak the truth in love. But how do we determine what is spoken in love and what is spoken out of hate? We cannot. So the lawmakers tried to put into the law a way to prohibit bullying while still allowing for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There is no way to accommodate both sides effectively because we have a separation of church and state. We cannot enforce the "laws" of religion (ie saying that you can only speak out against something if you do so out of love) because the government has no authority to do so. You cannot define in a legal way what is done out of love or strong moral conviction and what is done with malicious intent. The members of Westboro baptist Church do not think of themselves as hateful. They do what they do because they believe in it. I disagree with them. I do not know how they reconcile what they do with what is in the Bible, but the point is that THEY believe in it.
This law in Michigan has a great intent, but now it has become bogged down in legal rhetoric. How do you defend freedom of speech and freedom of religion while prohibiting differing opinions to be spoken out loud for fear that someone might be offended? You cannot. How do we, as adults, parents, teachers and role models, empower our kids to be themselves and stand up for their beliefs while punishing them for doing so? We cannot. How can lawmakers say that every one's feelings are valid but that only certain groups are allowed to express them? They cannot.
We have painted ourselves into a corner, so to speak.
Here in Texas, where I live, a student was recently suspended because he was having a one-on-one conversation with another student and stated that he was a Christian and believed that homosexuality was wrong and the teacher overheard him. He was yelled at, written up, sent to the office, and suspended. For stating his personal belief to a friend. There was no anger, or malicious intent, or what could even be considered judgement since it was a statement not related to any individual but just in a private conversation. To me, that is bullying by the system. A biology teacher in California last year won a $100,000 settlement after she was fired for answering a student’s question by citing research that homosexuality “may be influenced by both genes and the environment.” That is bullying by the system. At the University of Illinois in July 2010, school officials fired a Catholic theology teacher after he asserted that homosexuality was, according to Catholic teaching, contrary to the moral law. Prof. Kenneth Howell, who had simultaneously lost his position at the Catholic Newman Center on campus, was reinstated days later after thousands protested. That is bullying by the system. Also in 2010 news broke of the story of a counseling student at Augusta State University, who, after her professors learned of her Christian beliefs on homosexuality, was told to attend workshops to improve her sensitivity towards homosexuals, to complete remedial reading, and to write papers describing the impact of such measures on her beliefs, as a condition of continuing in the program. That is bullying by the system.
The religious fanatics in our country have long been accused of committing the very sins that they speak out against because they take it to extremes -- they don't just say that this or that is wrong, but they take on the judgement portion that is reserved only for God by saying that this person or group of people are wrong and their passion and anger over it bleeds into their treatment of that group often with a violent end. Now the liberal left seems to have joined them in their hypocrisy. You cannot advocate freedom of speech and freedom of religion if you are unwilling to allow those laws to apply to everyone. If it is okay for one person to be openly gay, then it must also be okay for another person to openly say "I believe that this is a sin." It becomes problematic when any person is prevented from being able to speak their mind, no matter what their belief is and no matter whether they're a member of the majority or the minority. Violation of a person's First Amendment rights is problematic, no matter who they are or what they stand for.
So what is my solution?
Well, I think that the only thing you can do here is to NOT make the wording of the law more specific, but to make it more general. Give those tasked with enforcing it more lattitude to interpret intent on an individual basis. For example, if a kid says "I am a Christian and I believe that homosexuality is a sin" but he doesn't stand up and single out or threaten any one person or group, then that is not bullying. It is not hate. It is allowing that student to do what we push kids to do -- stand up for his beliefs and to do so in the face of adversity.
As a society, we have taken the stance that every lifestyle choice is valid. We want everyone to feel loved and accepted. No one wants to offend anyone. We want everyone to like everyone else and get along in our country. This. Is. A. FANTASY. We have been advocating "acceptance" when we should have been advocating tolerance and respect. Acceptance of something that you or your religion, culture, or morals oppose involves a compromise of your beliefs. Tolerance of something does not. I can respect your opinion and your right to that opinion without accepting it. We want people to fell free to be who they are, to stand up for their beliefs, to speak up and speak out against what they believe is wrong but in the same breath we tell them not to offend anyone. Do you see the problem? I am a Christian who tries to live by what the Bible teaches. Yet, I have friends who are openly homosexual, friends who are Jewish, friends who are Muslim, friends who are Hindu, friends who are Bhuddist, friends who are Wiccan and friends who are athiest. And I can have intelligent conversations about morals and religion with all of them because we respect and tolerate each other's beliefs not because we accept them. Bullying could be virtually eradicated by enforcing a stricter policy of a universally accepted and morally benign concept of respect. If we pushed for respect of opinions and beliefs instead of acceptance of them, then tolerance would be a given.
Everyone cannot be "right." If you cannot have a civil, intelligent, conversation with someone who lives a lifestyle different from what you believe is "right" then how do you function in the world?