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Tennessee Conservatives Seek Protections For Religious Bullies

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"Tennessee Conservatives Seek Protections For Religious Bullies"

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Jacob Rogers

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) is using the suicide of Jacob Rogers — who was bullied relentlessly for being gay — to promote state legislation that would protect bullies who harass other students for their sexual orientation. The “license to bully” bill, HB 1153, was actually introduced last year, but FACT is hoping it will make headway in this new legislative session. Mirroring similar language that was recently proposed in Michigan, the bill creates specific protections for students who share any “religious, philosophical, or political views” that are “unpopular,” regardless of their consequences to the learning environment:

“Creating a hostile educational environment” shall not be construed to include discomfort and unpleasantness that can accompany the expression of a viewpoint or belief that is unpopular, not shared by other students, or not shared by teachers or school officials.

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.

The bill is unabashedly designed to ensure that anti-LGBT bullying persists in the school system, as it specifically eliminates any protections or education that might help curb such harassment:

Harassment, intimidation, or 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, make the characteristics of the victim the focus rather than the conduct of the person engaged in harassment, intimidation, or bullying, 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 in 4-21-102(4).

The mindset behind this bill flies in the face of data that shows the presence of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies, supportive staff, and Gay-Straight Alliances all help minimize bullying. In addition to this bill, the Tennessee legislature will also reconsider the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prevents teachers and staff from providing any educational support about LGBT identities.

FACT’s outright endorsement of anti-gay bullying is horrifying, but not surprising. Like many small conservative organizations, FACT is mostly a one-man operation, and its president, David Fowler, regularly condemns anything related to LGBT equality. He personally helped script debate on last year’s bill that banned all municipal nondiscrimination protections throughout the state of Tennessee, disguising the discriminatory intent of the law with economic rhetoric. Fowler also ran transphobic ads opposing Nashville’s nondiscrimiantion protections and objected when insurer BlueCross BlueShield instituted similar corporate policies.

More than any of his past efforts, Fowler’s call for more bullying makes it clear his motives are malicious and have little to do with religious freedom or any other benefits for the state of Tennessee.

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