“Bully” used to be a term applied to overgrown playground terrorists – typically accompanied by groveling toadies – who got a charge out of dominating smaller classmates. Lately, it’s become synonymous with harassment of individuals having homosexual proclivities. This dimension of bullying drew wider attention when some victims contemplated and even committed suicide.
How far should government go to prevent provocation by those who believe homosexuality is wrong or who just have a sadistic compulsion to humiliate the vulnerable? The debate grew more strident this week after a proposal by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, failed to win approval from the House Education Committee. She wanted to expand the protections of an anti-bullying measure the legislature passed in 2008.
It’s a human rights issue for gay activists and a theological one for religious fundamentalists who note that the Bible condemns homosexuality as an “abomination.” The Old Testament scripture seems direct enough in its meaning. However, many Christians, even fundamentalists, are inclined to ignore some other biblical prohibitions, such as the one against eating pork. Perhaps they interpret it as a specific injunction for the tribe of Israelites Moses led out of bondage in Egypt. Anyway, the New Testament tends to be more lenient.
This dispute won’t soon be settled. The committee vote led to a clash in the halls of the Capitol Annex between Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, and Andrew Walker, a lobbyist against Marzian’s bill. Martin Cothran, spokesman for the Family Foundation, which also opposed the legislation, described Hartman’s tongue-lashing of Walker as itself a kind of bullying.
Some legislators argued the bill, if passed, would have given gay students “special rights” not granted to their classmates. One, Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, pointed out that Christian students also have a First Amendment right to air their opposition to homosexuality. They do indeed, provided they can express themselves non-violently.
We too are troubled by laws that appear to provide extra protection to designated groups. “Hate crimes” draw special penalties for offenders who attack racial minorities or ethnic groups, but murder is murder and assault is assault. Perpetrators should be punished appropriately without regard for the victim’s census classification. The law already provides remedies for gays or anyone else who feels wronged by defamatory words. Slanderous speech and libelous publication are subject to legal redress. Terroristic threatening and harassment are crimes.
How about suicide? People who drive other people to the ultimate act of personal desperation constitute the dregs of humanity. But freedom of speech, so far as we know, encompasses speech that’s both heartless and prejudicial. Some public figures have stepped forward lately urging bullies’ victims to rise above the hateful words thrown at them, and we’d add that there are organizations dedicated to helping those who, for whatever reason, feel compelled to take their own lives. The deeply depressed should call them for counseling.
Gay activists and their tormentors should consider compromise. Christians might try to emulate Jesus’ example of compassion toward sinners. People who believe their homosexuality is no sin but rather an accident of birth should strive to turn the other cheek when bigots hurl insults. Forgive them and kill them with kindness. It’s better than killing yourself.