EDITORIALS

Free Speech for Bullies

Posted July 04, 2011, at 7:07 p.m.

Bad decisions are often made in the waning hours of legislative sessions as lawmakers hurry to finish their business. But last week’s decision by the Maine House of Representatives to put the “rights” of bullies ahead of those who are being taunted — sometimes to the point of suicide — signals a new low.

A bill to create a statewide policy on bullying and harassment in schools easily passed the House and Senate earlier in the session. But when it came to a final vote last week, several members of the House changed their minds, apparently at the behest of a Maine Christian Civic League campaign to turn the well-meaning legislation into a frightening piece of the gay agenda. The bill was set aside until next year.

“Even though bullying may be a legitimate challenge in our schools, LD 1237, ‘An Act to Prohibit Bullying in Schools’ is a bill we cannot support,” the league, aka the Maine Family Policy Council, wrote in an action alert.

The top reason: LD 1237 offers no guarantees of First Amendment rights for those who may express opposing views or opinions. And the bill was written by those promoting a gay rights agenda, the council warned.

Here’s a news flash to the league and lawmakers: Not everyone who is bullied is gay, and the First Amendment doesn’t allow people to harass and taunt others to the point of depression and suicide.

It is sad enough that the league resorted to warped logic and scare tactics to derail this work. Worse is that many lawmakers fell for it.

The bill would have directed the commissioner of education to develop a model harassment, intimidation and bullying prevention policy. School administrative units were to adopt a policy based on the model by Aug. 15, 2012.

Some lawmakers worried about the cost of the bill, which should have been negligible since most schools say they already are addressing bullying. If they didn’t like LD 1237, they could have adopted the governor’s approach — the woodshed mandate. When asked, during a ceremony to sign a bill allowing charter schools, how he felt about bullying, Gov. Paul LePage said: “Every school ought to have a woodshed, and the bullies should be brought to the woodshed.”

He then said he has no tolerance for bullying, child abuse or domestic violence and that his administration would address these concerns in coming weeks. “Anything that stops the bullying is good to me,” he said.

The governor is right. Bullying is a real problem — not a made-up gay agenda item — and it is good to know that he and his administration have the courage to do something about it.

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