November 4, 2011 11:30AM

Indignant over Free Speech Trumping Bullying Protection? Support Choice

Yesterday, the Michigan Senate passed anti‐​bullying legislation that has anti‐​bullying legislators, activists, and sympathizers outraged. Why? Because at the insistence of some in the legislature, it includes a provision protecting religious speech.

video of State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D‑East Lansing) has already gone viral, with the senator railing that “as passed today, bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.” Similarly, Time columnist Amy Sullivan asks “why does Michigan’s anti‐​bullying bill protect religious tormentors?”

I’ll tell you why: because as odious as one might find the religious beliefs of many people, they are entitled to freedom of speech the same as anyone else. That is a basic American right, and all the desire in the world to protect kids from hearing things that might make them feel badly must not change that. Abridge that right, and any speech becomes imperiled if a majority simply deems it unacceptable. And the legislation in question does not protect bullying—if that is defined as physical assaults or threats of such assaults—for religious reasons. It only states that the legislation “does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”

Of course, being on the receiving end of constant pronouncements that you are doomed to Hell or something similarly hideous would almost certainly become difficult, if not impossible, to bear. It shouldn’t be something that any child is subjected to in school. But how do you balance protecting children against people’s fundamental right to speak?

The answer is that despite all the lofty talk of “democracy” and other empty rhetoric behind public schooling, you cannot protect everyone equally in a government school. No matter what policy a public school or district adopts, government will pick winners and losers. That’s why the only solution to a quandary such as this is educational freedom: Give control of education funding to parents, let them choose among independent schools run by free educators, and enable people to choose schools that share their values. Then all people can select educations for their children that comport with their values and needs, and without government deciding who is more, or less, equal than whom.