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The Intersection of Bullying, Free Speech, and Religion Likely to Play Out in Disciplinarian’s Offices

February 4, 2017

Diane Ravitch’s post yesterday on the draft of an Executive Order provided quotes from White House spokesman Sean Spicer on the four page document being circulated among White House staff members:

“There’s clearly a lot of evidence in the last couple of years of the government coming in with regulations and policies that have, frankly, denied people the ability to live according to their faith,” Spicer said during his daily briefing. “People should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal. And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way, in the name of political correctness.”

This sounds very high-minded and libertarian, but the intention of stemming “political correctness” is to allow people to speak out against LGBT students, against people with different religious convictions, and— arguably— against people of a different race all in the name of religious liberty. That is, it is a license to bully people in the name of religious freedom.

I read of this new Executive Order a day after watching a recently made documentary, Welcome to Leith. The movie describes the efforts of a care of neo-Nazis to take over the governance of a small community of 24 people in the hopes of establishing a place to practice their “religion”, a religion that was not recognized by the State as such but a religion in their minds. The creed of this religion was that of Adolph Hitler and the movie made it clear that while this small band of men seemed like outliers, they represented a group that numbered in the thousands that was loosely linked through social media sites. The only reason the band of neo-Nazis failed in their effort to take over the town was because the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who tracks the movements of instigators of hate crimes, noticed that several of them had purchased property in the town and alerted the local mayor who was eventually able to rid the community of the gun-toting Neo-Nazi bullies who “patrolled the streets”.

After reading of this Executive Order and watching this chilling documentary, I couldn’t help but think that the first place the intersection of bullying, free speech, and religious liberty is likely to play out is in the high school disciplinarian’s office. If a group of students read about the neo-Nazi “religion” on-line and decide to use that as the basis for taunting LGBT students, Muslims, “foreigners”, Jews, or blacks will this Executive Order preclude disciplinary action? Or… on a less extreme level, what if a group of Christian fundamentalists want to see protections against LGBT students eliminated from the student handbook because it offends their religious beliefs? What if a group of Muslim students taunt a group of Christians?

The Trump voters are not a monolith, but it is evident that there is a faction of that group– as well as the President himself– that despises “political correctness”. From my perspective what they call “political correctness” used to be called “civil speech”. For a President who made no apology for his use of misogynistic language it is unclear where the lines of “civil speech” are any more and it is therefore going to be difficult to draw clear lines on the appropriateness of student speech— especially if that speech can be shrouded in any way in the name of “religious liberty”.

Diane Ravitch ends her post with a quote from a Washington Post article:

“In the event that the order is actually issued, multiple groups are already preparing to challenge it on the grounds that it effectively sanctions discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, women and minorities.”

The lower courts will probably side with those who value civil speech. The new Supreme Court, which might include a justice with views to the right of Anton Scalia, might think differently. Democracy depends on civility, on “politically correct” treatment of each other. Hate speech cannot be shielded by religion… that is unless we are about to enter a period of Christian jihad.


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