It’s been almost two weeks since the Michigan State Senate passed an anti-bullying bill with language that essentially protected religiously-motivated bullies or others with a “sincerely held…moral conviction.” Now they’ve had a change of heart. After hearing from outraged constituents who didn’t want their state sanctioning the bullying of gay students, from concerned leaders of Michigan’s large Muslim community–who worried that the bill would permit Christian students to target Muslim classmates–and religious leaders of all stripes who said, in effect, don’t do this on our account, the Michigan House of Representatives passed its own version of the anti-bullying bill without a religious exemption. The legislature will now set aside the Senate-passed bill and send the House version over to their Senate colleagues for approval.
An interesting twist to this story came courtesy of the Michigan Catholic Conference, which endorsed the original anti-bullying bill (without the religious exemption) over the summer. Once the Senate passed the altered bill with language ostensibly intended to protect the religious liberty of students, the Michigan Catholic Conference withdrew its endorsement.
That decision is particularly significant given the fact that the nation’s bishops have made defending religious liberty the main topic of political discussion at their annual meeting in Baltimore this week. The bishops conference has pulled together unrelated incidents at the state and federal levels to allege an ongoing assault on Catholics’ religious liberty. It would have been easy to throw the Michigan anti-bullying bill into the mix. Instead, the state’s Catholic Conference chose to draw a line and not extend the definition of religious liberty to include the right to harass or bully students.