There is a new bill being proposed in Tennessee that could very well usher in a new era of hatred within the southern state. The bill amends a previously passed anti-bullying law in the name of protecting free speech. Essentially, if a student has religious, political or philosophical reasons to do so, they are more than welcome to verbally bully anyone and everyone so long as there is no physical threat to the other student.
There is protecting free speech and upholding First Amendment rights, and then there is simply allowing what most others would see as hate speech.
Generally, young children are influenced by their parents'opinions, specifically in regard to religion — many children are dragged along to church every Sunday morning. However, unless they are attending extremist Baptist churches like Westboro, I doubt they are being taught the kind of hate speech that translates into bullying. It is far more likely that these bullying children are simply spewing the religious, political and philosophical views of their parents in a sick imitation.
In any other situation, an adult yelling offensive, anti-homosexual slurs at a child on a daily basis would be considered harassment and unusually cruel. There is a good chance that adult would not only be sued by the child's parents, but possibly locked up. One child harassing another child is not any different, and this is the kind of cruel, criminal behavior that is excused by the proposed bill.
There are a few advocates of the proposed bill who say it will not target specific orientations, religions or political groups because the law goes both ways. In their eyes, the traditional bullies could easily have their words twisted back around on them.
I get the feeling, however, that if an atheist started bullying religious kids, especially Christians, it would be considered hate speech and they would have the wrath of an entire school system upon them. The same stands for the alleged homosexual standing up for himself and throwing a few slurs back at his attackers. They might be protected by the same law, but they would have to fight a lot more to prove it, and socially they would be even bigger pariahs.
The proposal of this bill is especially disgusting when considering the fact that it has been less than a month since a Tennessee teen took his life after being bullied about his sexuality. According to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network — who should be fighting this bill tooth and nail — suicide rates in Tennessee have been rising significantly since 2007. Tennessee is tied at 9th place out of all U.S. states, sporting a 15 percent suicide rate statewide. Most of those suicides are teens, young adults and children. This proposed bill protects those who bully others at their most venerable ages — those numbers could easily go up.
Tennessee is not the first state to try this. There are several other states that have seen mixed results. I have hope that one day we as a country will grow out of bigotry and into a new, more open minded generation. If this law is amended, it will be a huge step back for America and cast Tennessee in an extremely negative light comparatively. They should absolutely care how other states — and countries — perceive them.