Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled senate in Michigan passed legislation that required schools to adopt anti-bullying policies but exempted bullies who have a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” Outraged over the loophole, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) delivered an impassioned speech rebuking the Republicans for “explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying.” Whitmer’s speech went viral and this morning she appeared on MSNBC with Thomas Roberts to discuss the legislation:
WHITMER: They say they care about First Amendment rights of speech, but we all know that no state can abridge your freedom of speech under the United States Constitution. This is a subterfuge, where I believe it is based on homophobia or, you know, creating rights for people. What this is about is protecting all kids. Every single kid in every walk of life. And that’s who we need to be thoughtful of as this legislation moves forward.
Whitmer is hopeful that the House — which is set to consider the legislation — will remove the religious and moral exceptions. Republican House Speaker Jase Bolge said he is working on changes to the bill that will “bring everyone to the middle of the road and provide protection to all students,” but still opposes language that would “enumerate specific groups for additional protection.” Research has consistently shown that legislation that specifically protects on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a far larger deterrent than blanket prohibitions against bullying.