A coalition of national groups, led by the American Jewish Committee and Religious Freedom Education Project, have released new “guidelines” for public schools that attempt to walk the line between combating bullying and protecting religious speech. The guidelines themselves are not particularly specific, but they seem to suggest that religious rhetoric should not be curtailed in anyway, regardless of how damaging or disruptive it might be to those who “disagree” with it:
With respect to sexual orientation and behavior, one student’s call for legalization of same-sex marriage may be perceived by another student as a challenge to his or her deeply held religious beliefs. Conversely, one student’s expression of his or her religious convictions concerning what he or she regards as sinful sexual behavior will be perceived by another student as suggesting that gay and lesbian students have no place in the school. A student may wear a T-shirt proclaiming “Straight Pride” to counter another student’s “Gay Pride” T-shirt, or vice versa.[...]
When confronting one student’s claim that another student’s speech conveying an idea is harassment and bullying, school officials should consider, time and circumstances permitting, explaining on an age appropriate basis, that disagreement about an idea is not necessarily a personal attack; that some students’ faiths may require them to express their views publicly; that students have a right to disagree with the view of other students or the school and to express that disagreement; and that the most effective response to an idea one disagrees with is often to express a contrary idea, not censorship. Suppression of speech should be the last, not first, resort.
The rhetoric in this document is troubling, because it ignores the current context for how prevalent anti-gay bullying currently is in schools, and how particularly damaging research has shown it to be. Rather, these guidelines suggest that “disagreements” are a two-way street — that a religious condemnation of homosexuality is equivalent in effect to a student’s opposing position defending gay people. This is absurd and completely ignores how vulnerable young people in the throws of coming out can be to such anti-gay viewpoints.
As documented in The Good News Club, conservative Christians are proactively encouraging anti-gay evangelism within schools. It’s unsurprising that among the endorsers of these guidelines are Christian Educators Association International, the Christian Legal Society, and the National Association of Evangelicals. Noticeably absent was GLSEN or any group that advocates for the LGBT community. These organizations are within their right to defend religious expression, but to minimize the impact of anti-gay bullying by conflating “condemnation” with “disagreement” is dangerously disingenuous. The key to reducing anti-gay bullying is training about LGBT issues, not openly humoring religious reproach while ignoring the harm it causes.