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TN: ‘Freedom of Religion’ Trumps Bullying Prevention in Public Schools

 

A bill has been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly to challenge public school anti-bullying policies and programs on the basis that these infringe upon religious expression. Senate Bill 0760 and House Bill 1153 were introduced at the behest of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), to propose that “bullying prevention task forces, programs, and other initiatives formed by school districts, including any curriculum adopted for such purposes, shall not include materials or training that explicitly or implicitly promote a political agenda…or teach or suggest that certain beliefs or viewpoints are discriminatory when an act or practice based on such belief or viewpoint is not a discriminatory practice as defined [by state law].” 1
 
A summary of the bill notes that, “
Under present human rights law, a ‘discriminatory practice’ is any direct or indirect act or practice of exclusion, distinction, restriction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial, or any other act or practice of differentiation or preference in the treatment of a person because of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin.”2 Because current state law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among the protected criteria, the FACT bill would ensure that verbal harassment of LGBTQ students and school personnel would be protected as an expression of religious faith.
 
Among those opposing the measure, the Tennessee Equality Project has raised concern that “this kind of legislation can send a message that it’s ok to hate and we’ll even give you religious sanction for it…as long as you’ve got religious reasons for it, you’ve got backup,” in the words of TEP president Chris Sanders.At last report the legislation has been stalled in committee.
 
 
FACT has also been behind the introduction of a bill (Senate 1305/House 1352) that would allow parents to sue teachers who teach sexuality topics other than abstinence-only. 4
 
 
1 Jillian Rayfield, “Tennessee Bill Would Give Anti-Bullying Laws A ‘Religious And Political Beliefs’ Loophole,” TalkingPointsMemo.com, 4 January 21012, accessed 17 January 2012,
 
2 “Bill Summary, *SB 0760 by *Tracy. (HB 1153 by *Dennis.),” Tennessee General Assembly web site, accessed 18 January 2012, <http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/billinfo/BillSummaryArchive.aspx?BillNumber=SB0760&ga=107>.
 
3 Janice Harper, “With God on Their Side: The Tennessee Pro-Bully Bill,” HuffingtonPost.com, 5 January 2012, accessed 17 January 2012, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janice-harper/tennessee-pro-bully-bill_b_1187276.html>.
 
4   Rayfield, “Tennessee Bill…”

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