[Gentle reader: I had to make light of this one, because trying to tackle this serious topic seriously would have taxed my eloquence beyond its capabilities. If you want to hear eloquence, listen to the video at the end. Then share it with everybody you can.]
Here's the good news: Michigan just passed a new anti-bullying law, called "Matt's Safe School Law," named for a gay teenager who committed suicide recently after being bullied beyond endurance. As a former victim of bullying, I have my doubts about whether passing a law is going to stop anyone from being a bully, but at least it's a nice gesture.
OK, here's the bad news: Republicans in the Michigan legislature refused to pass the law unless it included an exception for bullies who act out of religious or moral conviction.
Let's start with "moral." Words do occasionally change meaning, or acquire new connotations, so it might be a good idea to consult a current dictionary definition, or definitions. Microsoft Word Tools menu to the rescue.
1) Involving right and wrong.
I guess that means that if you're right and your victim is wrong, it's OK to be a bully. Right?
2) Derived from personal conscience.
Ah yes—personal conscience is a flexible thing. Given that a personal conscience can be pretty much anything you want it to be, this means that anybody who wants to can be a bully. Still with me?
3) According to common standards of justice.
Well, (as George Will would say). That one's a little more difficult. Most common standards of justice would assert that it's wrong to bully, period.
4) Encouraging goodness and decency.
This one might leave some room for the old "be good or I'll beat you up" maneuver. Goodness and decency can't be too dearly bought, one might say. (That's up to one's personal conscience, after all.)
5) Good by accepted standards.
Ah. "Accepted by whom?," one might ask. If we're talking about the kind of standards that are accepted by society at large, it's probably fair to say that bullying isn't good by those standards, no matter who is being bullied. You have to have some pretty warped standards to think otherwise. I sense that we're getting to the core of the matter here.
6) Able to tell right from wrong.
The ad hominem definition. Somebody who can tell right from wrong is moral. Therefore, such a person can advance moral reasons for his or her behavior. Such a person is not likely to argue that bullying is right, at least if he or she is judging right and wrong by accepted standards.
7) Based on personal conviction.
Uh-oh. I see a loophole here the size of Lake Ontario. Personal conviction is something that most bullies I've encountered have lots of. Conviction that it's OK to treat other people like dirt, hurt them, belittle them, and reduce them to sobbing, helpless defenseless. That's a personal decision, isn't it?
Let's try "religious."
1) Relating to religion.
Hmm. So if someone's religion says it's OK to bully people, it's OK with Michigan too.
2) Believing in a higher being.
Oh. Kay. ... Most bullies I know believe in a higher being. Themselves. As in: "Let me knock you down and trample on you until you could be standing on Mt. Everest and you'd still feel like a helpless shrimp in my presence." That's Bully Psych 101, in case you didn't know.
Oh wow. Bullies will love this one. They've got all the time they want to be as thorough as they feel like being. After all, somebody can't be humiliated out of every last vestige of his or her self-respect in a day or two. It's a good thing for the bullies that they put this one in.
4) Belonging to a monastic order.
I'm not even going there.
I just can't help myself, I guess. I wanted to make sure that the idea of allowing bullying because of moral and religious convictions had some real basis, and it turns out it does. Never mind that most reasonable people would agree, in the abstract, that a moral or religious person would never bully anyone. That's just something a nerd would say. Bullies know better. (Go back to religious, 2).)
So here's what Michigan has done. It's told anybody who wants to be a bully for any reason his or her personal conscience allows that it's fine and dandy with the state of Michigan for him or her to bully anybody that he or she doesn't think is a good or decent person. But don't take my word for it. Listen to the minority leader of Michigan's State Senate.
And to all you newly empowered bullies out there: Have a nice day, by accepted standards.