January 5th, 2012
11:42 AM ET

Critics say proposed Tenn. bill could enable harassment in schools

A proposed bill that will be debated in Tennessee would create a loophole in state schools' anti-discrimination laws that could protect students who engage in harassment if it falls under their religious or political beliefs, opponents of the bill told CNN.

Currently schools in the state are being required to adopt policies that prohibit harassment and bullying.

Supporters of the bill say their goal is to make sure whatever policies are implemented will keep in mind a student’s freedom of expression and protect the student from being punished merely for expressing their views so long as they aren’t threatening harm or damaging property.

“This bill clarifies that the policy may not be construed or interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students and may not prohibit their expression of religious, philosophical, or political views as long as such expression does not include a threat of physical harm to a student or of damage to a student's property,” the bill states.

Read the proposed bill (PDF)

But opponents say it will create an dangerous exemption that allows those who condemn homosexuality to openly harass gay students strictly because of their religious views without  punishment - so long as they don't actually harm them.

The bill, which was introduced in 2011 in the House and Senate, has gained attention after the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) announced it would be one of their highest priorities for the year. The sponsors of the bills did not return calls for comment about where discussion on the bill stood.

The group's December newsletter says it hopes "to make sure [the law] protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality,” according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Because of the specific protection requested for religious and political views, activists for the LGBT communities fear the law may be sending the wrong message to students that it would be OK to harass each other under the cloak of religious or political views.

Chris Sanders, chairman of the Nashville committee of the Tennessee Equality Project, told CNN he has major concerns about what kind of climate the bill would create in areas that don’t have support for those being harassed - regardless of whether it is over their sexual orientation. But he said increasingly, much of the harassing of minorities right now did concern homosexuality.

Sanders, for example, pointed to a scenario where a seventh-grade boy, who was perceived as gay, would encounter another child who quoted the Bible and told him that if he were with another man he should not be permitted to live.

“If you were that middle school student, what would you think was going to happen to you?” he said. “It’s not so much that I think another seventh-grader would pick up a stone and throw it at another child or hit him with it, but it’s about the terror in the child who is, or is perceived to be, gay who has to live with that constantly.”

Sanders said he hopes that legislators choose to enact a full anti-discrimination policy, but believes because they won’t do that, the only way to curb his concerns are for the bill to be pulled entirely.

He hopes instead of legislators pushing for this protection, the focus should instead be put on community efforts to increase discussions and understanding of different lifestyles.

He noted the death of Jacob Rogers, in Ashland City, Tennessee, who committed suicide after he was said to have experienced years of anti-gay harassment at school. Sanders said the community there has made great strides to try to change the attitudes in schools to prevent incidents like this occurring again, but this bill would be a step backward in that effort.

“A lot of us in Nashville and other cities of Tennessee regularly face the embarrassment that our state leaders are taking the state in the wrong direction while many of our local communities are trying to go in the right direction,” Sanders said.

FACT, and its founder David Fowler, say the bill is about protecting the rights of students.

"[It] is wrong to bully people because of their sexual practices. But it's wrong to bully people period,” the group said according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “The larger lesson here is that these tragedies are often the rotten fruit of the all-about-me individualistic culture that comes when we deny the existence of God and his image in us. When life and people become cheap, tragedy becomes the result."

Fowler,who did not return CNN's calls requesting a comment, was quoted by the Times Free Press as saying he agreed with Sanders that sexual orientation isn't the only issue.

[“Homosexuals are] “not the only people who get insulted,” Fowler was quoted as saying. “The thing we need to concentrate on is not whether the characteristics of the victim justify being protected, but on the conduct of the person engaging in the bullying, while respecting constitutional rights."

But Jonathan Cole, the president of the Tennessee Equality Project, wrote on his group’s website that the decision to grant specific protections in school policies for religious and political beliefs represented a “dangerous movement” that would make students less safe in the schools.

“If made into law, FACT would give students a 'license to bully' that allows them to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief,” Cole wrote in a blog post.  

“It's time for Tennesseans to stop using children as pawns for social, religious and political agendas. We need to be focusing on ways to ensure that Tennessee students receive an education free from bullying, harassment and intimidation.”

Cole added that he hoped parents, teachers and community leaders would take the time to have a conversation about the issue with government representatives.

“The health and welfare of Tennessee children may depend on it,” he said.

soundoff (266 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    The poster above is correct; morality and being gay have nothing to do with each other.
    One can have *very* high moral standards and be gay.

    And no one deserves to be bullied for being religious *or* gay.

    January 5, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      banasy you are warped...you should speak more plainly, in other words, you believe one can have a high moral standards and still sin. your conscious is corrupt...not even pagans hold that to be true!

      January 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rye

      Don't forget, Mmmmm: Everyone is a sinner. You too.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      MMMMMMMM, I used to have a "social life" and I was "equal to everyone." Now I believe in God. (I actually have believed in God since birth, but whatever.) Remember. When we die, what happens to your soul, not body. Sure motor functions shut down. But use common logic. Its easier to follow the pack then to be different.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • srichey


      Banasy is correct and i'm not sure how you equate being gay with sin. I am sure that hate is a sin. Oh yeah, i have something for you since you seem to need help.

      An Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie (AFDB) is a type of headwear that can shield your brain from most electromagnetic psychotronic mind control carriers. AFDBs are inexpensive (even free if you don't mind scrounging for thrown-out aluminium foil) and can be constructed by anyone with at least the dexterity of a chimp (maybe bonobo). This cheap and unobtrusive form of mind control protection offers real security to the masses. Not only do they protect against incoming signals, but they also block most forms of brain scanning and mind reading, keeping the secrets in your head truly secret. AFDBs are safe and operate automatically. All you do is make it and wear it and you're good to go! Plus, AFDBs are stylish and comfortable.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synapse

      Hey Mmmm- God made 10% of the population LBGT. Those humans who wrote the religious tracts condemning them- millennia ago- were fixated on enforcing conformity to their way of thinking, to ensure control.
      Sin ? Judge not, lest ye be judged.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      But just think... We may have been from tiny bacteria apes or whatever, but 2 things. One, what science formula explains the function of a chonchus? And Two, your theorys are based on theoretical observation. I thought black holes and wormholes and yada yada already prove science theories can be wrong. Food for thought

      January 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      BTW, we didn't do any worse then say, The U.S. government during segregation, or the oppresion of ANGLACIN kings in england. But of course NOT! Everyone loves hating on the Catholic church.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rye

      "Chonchus"? "Milk toasty"?

      Listen, this is just me talking, but if you want folks to take your points seriously, you need to work on the way you express them, Sam. For example, what do you mean when you say, "I think gay people like causing trouble for the heck of it"? What trouble are they causing, other than offending you personally? Could you please explain your position? Use spell check.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      That's the gods truth banasy! Christians think they take the higher moral road, but they don't. All Christians commit sin and the only reason most of them ask for forgiveness is because they want to go to heaven, not because they are ashamed of what they did. They are quick to follow the negative messages in the bible such as the whole anti-gay thing, but very slow to follow the positive messages, such as love thy neighbor. I've been reading comments to religious articles on CNN today and the Christians posting were the haters. Few even tried to make valid points, only name calling and spewing hate because they don't have any valid points.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • smmc10

      banasy@ – well said.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank!

      Mmmmmm is not a true Christian.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Yankee Dave

    Tennessee... another backwater dump... and a great place to be FROM....

    January 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sanity

      Another Yankee bigot and another person to be away from.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I used to have a life....... Now I have Minecraft.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      Sanity, the yankee's aren't the bigots... duh... learn some history why don't you!

      January 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeffer65

    No one should be bullied, harassed, or picked on for anything. Their gender, orientation, religion (or lack of), size, brains, etc. This law is asking for trouble.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Agreed. And no single law will EVER prevent it or reduce it.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Laura M.

    My daughter has autism, and incidents of bullying in school frighten me – the kids make fun of anyone different. She was even bullied by a teacher! When my daughter was only 6 she came home, held my face in her hand and sweetly said, "Hello, you little idiot!" She, being autistic, had no idea that the woman who said this to her was not being kind. It is a shame that it has come to needing actual laws against discrimination. Our society has not grown up; in fact it seems to be regressing in many ways. The Bible was not meant to be used as a tool of hate, so those people who hide behind the Bible to justify there own immorality and imbecility are disgusting.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I think special needs , or gay kids have the right to be equal. I'm not going to walk around pins and needles to "make them feel better" if my child does bully, i would be horrified, but he should treat them like he would a friend, not pity.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      you need to stay on topic. autism is a disability not a choice to sin...do you see any judicial processes condoning and protecting the teacher's inappropiate behavior? No! But you see laws implemented to specifically condoning and protecting the inappropiate behavior of the

      January 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I am not condeming all laws in a chosen category, i can not like diferent laws can't I? I like non black discrimintation.... But NO GAY RIGHTS, YOU GO GINGRITCH!

      January 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Sam, you are everything thats wrong with this country, another closed minded bigot who fears difference. its funny how religion condemns gays but so many religious figures are child molestors that the church has covered up.. also please tell me what is the number cause of death in history???? religion, hmmm

      January 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Available for Bullying

    Back in the 1960s, a favorite target of bullies was the fat kid. It seemed like every class had one or two obese students who were the brunts of many jokes and tauntings. It even seemed fair to jump-in and help the skinny kid if the fat one was kicking his ass. Now look! Our kids are almost as fat as our adults are! If it weren't for attention deficit disorders, bullies would go crazy trying to decide who to pick on. We might as well have laws requiring mandantory meds for repeat offender bullies. I recommend Prozac and Seroquel. Ritilin is so cliche'.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • UpsetInCA

      Well put. Back in the early 1990s (when I was in middle school) I was bullied and bullied plenty. And you know what? Amazingly – I did not kill myself – I bulled some younger kids – because that's what you learn if people bully you – unfortunate but true. But you know what – none of those kids killed themselves either. I got older – I never got apologies from the kids that picked on me, but I was mature enough to make peace with those I might have picked on. I fear that all this pandering will just make the children of our society weak – the whole crisis is media fabricated and perpetuated. Look at how these idiot politicians got at each other – if they were really concerned about this issue they wouldn't produce smear campaign ads that outright lie about each other.

      Nothing has changed with bullies in 100 years, and some well meaning politicians can only do one thing – the same they always do – make things worse by trying to fix a problem that doesn't need to be fixed.

      I hate to be callous, but a human life is only worth so much – literally. I know it sounds bad – but economists evaluate this in models all the time. I would argue what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. You could argue Columbine wouldn't have happened, but it would have, because teens get angry and do dumb stuff – bullying was just their excuse to go hurt people. We're going to spend all this time policing bullying making sure the fat kids aren't made fun of, which by the way is a great thing, cause then the fat kids might try to stop being fat, as not to be bullied. We're going to police the this kind of kid and that kind of kid, and our kids won't learn, they'll just spend 8 hours a day in school learning to be politcally correct drones.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      well good for you for not killing yourself but you know what, different people react different ways to things, there is no one size fits all response to being bullied. To try to justify letting it happen as part of life is just a cop out.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark

    Anti-bullying laws do nothing to stop bullying. It's a waste of time for the 50 legislators to be dealing with this nonsense.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank!

      Just curious, but does it infuriate you to hear the names Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King? Is your favorite hero John Wilkes Booth or James Earl Ray?

      January 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ryan Fantus

    I agree that bullying is reprehensible, and bullies represent one of the most notoriously evil sects of people in society. That being said...

    The government shouldn't be our nanny. That's what parents and education are for. Freedom of Speech is what the government protects...not Freedom From Being Offended (TM). This is in the role of parental figures, and it's up to society to fix social problems, NOT the government. The more we allow government to legislate our social and moral ideals by law, the more dangerous and overreaching our government becomes.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I agree with you 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 precent

      January 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • hippo

      Thank you! someone who gets it.

      January 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • UpsetInCA

      Didn't you know, government IS society – and according to our politicians, apparently society would not exist without government. If government doesn't tell us to stop it, who will take the initiative? The parents? The teaches? Don't be crazy! We need nanny gov't.

      What will all the family sitcoms use for material, since the bully will no longer exist in american culture. The good news, none of our children will become robbers, because its not nice to take things from other people – they'll learn that in school you see. But they will become sponges because the first time something in life doesn't work in their favor they won't know what to do – when their boss fires them for being lazy they'll say he was bully and not understand why they don't get their job back when the complain to mommy.

      Adversity builds character – success, failure, hardship all make us who we are – if we give our kids bland vanilla upbring they will neither truly appreciate REAL diversity or understand how to succeed.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexandr

      Using your logic if a parent doesn't or is unable to discipline their child, that's the end of it? Freedom of speech does NOT include verbally attacking other children. This isn't about your opinions, this is about threatening someone. What world do you live in?

      No, I'm sorry, the government does need to get involved on something like this.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      so called nanny states introduce legistlation because society fails to deal with it, we cant sit around hoping it will get better.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      "bullies are evil" Really? Bullies are children. Get a grip.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. zaggs

    "Sanders, for example, pointed to a scenario where a seventh-grade boy, who was perceived as gay, would encounter another child who quoted the Bible and told him that if he were with another man he should not be permitted to live."

    Looks like Mr. Sanders never bothered to read the bill. The bill clearly states "The policy shall not be construed or interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students and shall not prohibit their expression of religious,
    philosophical, or political views; provided, that such expression does not include a threat of physical harm to a student or damage to a student’s property.". So yes someone using religion to threaten someone would not be covered.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Since America is so Milk toasty, I know I can't get out of equal rights... Sigh.... I THINK GAY PEOPLE LIKE CAUSING TROUBLE FOR THE HECK OF IT... Btw, the way you would have it, we would all be equal.... But aren't we all diferent and unique? Hmmmmmm...

      January 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hippo

    why does there need to be a bill against bully behavior? government doesnt need to get involved. teachers, parents and principals need to handling this issue.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Laws trying to curtail bullying are far from perfect but the civil rights legislation did change behavior. This legislation certainly did not end rascism, but it has made a great difference in our nation. Maybe bullying policies can help over time. As a school teacher for many years, I can see the cruelty (and compassion) first hand. Bullies can make a school a dangerous and hateful place. I really like teaching in a safe and caring place. Don't enable bullies.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      The civil rights movement, in my opinion, created a bell curve in equality. Now we have to be hypersensitive to everything that makes everyone different from one another, in order to avoid offending someone. When I was growing up, America was referred to as the Melting Pot where each culture got together and melted into Americanism. Now, they teach that we're the Salad Bowl, because each part is so distinctly different, we will never mix with one another. I wonder if Affirmative Action was what Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to when he had a dream that we'd all be treated as equals. I argue that it's exactly the opposite, and he's rolling in his grave right now at how stupid we all are...collectively.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JustWho

    Time for a good lawyer to take the school district, school, administrators and teacher to the wood shed and extract some real money. Either stop allowing bullies to do their thing or pay dearly. And if school taxes go through the roof to pay legal fees, maybe, just maybe, the community will get the message. Parents will put little Johnny in the corner with shackles.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    Mmmmm, what I said was spoken *very* plainly.

    One can have very high moral standards and be gay.

    Ther are no "in other words"; only your words that would skew what I have just said to adjust to your way of thinking.

    January 5, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      you are a hypocrite and a contradiction...in short a liar of critcal things.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rye

      I don't see where he was being either of those things, Mmmmm. Can you please explain what you mean?

      January 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexandr

      Rye – They won't be able to... to him (or her) the fact that someone is gay means they are immoral. Regrettably, you won't be able to change their mind.

      Of course, from Mmmm's statements, they are immoral... but they wouldn't understand what I mean.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nero

      and MMMMMmmmm is a name caller and trash talker because you have no valid point. You are also a Hater and hate is a sin so have fun in the afterlife you sucker

      January 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ray

    Ignorant archaic beliefs in supernatural beings have hampered progress and science for FAR too long. I am sick of this stupidity. Don't base your life on fairy tales.

    January 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. csense

    Be careful what you wish for reds...muslims will be allowed to tell your christian kids they should be dead too for not following islam. What's good for th goose....

    January 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      That's where we, as parents of these kids, tell them not to worry about wth the other kid says to him. That's where we tell our kids to stand up on their own two feet, not be so darn sensitive, acknowledge that someone has an opinion that they disagree with, but be the bigger person and move on.

      Or, we could get offended, freak out, and allow our kids to emulate us and be sniveling crybabies that want the government to exercise restraint on WORDS coming from a CHILD.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. solex

    If I had one wish, it would not be for fame or fortune but for one thing:

    That being religious and being virtuous are not automatically assumed to be inclusive.

    January 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jazzy

    @ Rye, He is a she. banasy is a women.
    People set their own moral standards that don't always agree with others or more importantly Gods'

    January 5, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rye

      Also, I like your misplaced possessive.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
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