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Catholic Church favors anti-bullying efforts — just not so-called 'Safe and Supportive Schools Act'

An April 22 MinnPost article, "Catholic Church ramps up opposition to Minnesota anti-bullying bill," contained critical errors and omissions about the local Catholic Church’s opposition to so-called anti-bullying bill being considered in the Legislature.

adkins portrait
Jason Adkins

The Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), which represents the Catholic Church in Minnesota at the Legislature, was not contacted by the reporter for an interview or to comment on the church’s position. Thus, it is important to set the record straight so the public understands our advocacy on the matter of anti-bullying.

The Catholic Church unequivocally abhors the bullying of all children, and believes schools and communities should undertake steps to combat this problem. We consistently voiced this throughout our advocacy in support of last year’s marriage-amendment ballot question in the attempt to clarify what we were saying about marriage, and what we were not saying about our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

The policy in Catholic schools is to treat every child as someone created in the image and likeness of God; this includes young people experiencing same-sex attraction. In fact, one student involved in the bullying lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin school district transferred to a Catholic school.

Other policies should be considered

Though Minnesota has a policy directing local districts to create anti-bullying policies (its brevity being irrelevant to its substance), other policies can and should be considered to combat the problem.

But not all anti-bullying policies protect children and the community against bullying equally. The particular bill to which MCC objects is the so-called “Safe and Supportive Schools Act” (SF 783/HF 826). The bill has several problems. For example:

  • It is unconstitutional. As First Amendment scholars on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate have concluded, the bill has serious constitutional problems. It uses vague terms to define bullying that could turn the law into an instrument of intimidation against those with whom someone disagrees. One national expert described the bill as a “First Amendment nightmare.” 
  • The bill imposes its mandates and costs on private schools. In an unprecedented state interference with the religious freedom, governance, and autonomy of private schools, the bill directs them to comply with its costly reporting, investigative and disciplinary mandates. Curriculum components of the bill that are currently “encouraged” could become mandates in the future. Contrary to popular perception and a proffered justification of this bill, private schools do not receive public funds. Students of private schools that do not comply with the bill’s mandates may lose their individual pupil aid — including textbooks, counseling and nursing services. Private schools already have enormous incentives to create safe environments for kids because if they don’t, parents can take their tuition dollars elsewhere.
  • It is expensive. During a time when both public and private schools in Minnesota are struggling to get by it is estimated that the statewide increased cost to local school districts will be nearly $26 million in 2014 alone, and that number is expected to increase slightly from year to year.
  • It does not protect all kids. One would hope that a bill with such a hefty price tag would fairly and equally protect all children. But the bill enumerates certain types of students and characteristics that count as susceptible to bullying instead of creating a program that protects all kids from harassment and abuse. People should be protected from bullying because they are human beings, not because of a particular trait.

A few of these problems have, properly, led to some changes to the House version of the bill — including the removal of the private school mandates — but more amendments should be made. The Senate version has not yet seen similar changes.

As stated clearly in our 2013 legislative positions, MCC welcomes legislation aimed at combating school bullying. Indeed, two other legislative proposals have been introduced this session, including one bill based on the highly rated North Dakota model that was publicly endorsed by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Both are better alternatives

Both proposals are better alternatives and should be considered instead of a bill that could impose significant costs on public and private schools as well as litigation costs on the state budget.

The MinnPost article quoted Senate sponsor Scott Dibble as saying that the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis had not done anything to address the problem of school bullying legislatively. Dibble knows well, however, that MCC represents the Archdiocese on such matters, and that he has denied many MCC requests to meet with him about the bill.

MCC did meet multiple times with advocates from the LGBT community and OutFront Minnesota (the chief proponent of the bill) to try to find common ground; as well, MCC made abundantly clear in legislative testimony that the Church was concerned about bullying and welcomed proposals to combat the problem.

To imply that opposition to the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act” means the Catholic Church supports bullying is simply a dishonest representation of the facts. We welcome other anti-bullying legislation and hope to see those proposals move forward.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.

Cathedral of St. Paul image by Flickr user Steve Moses and used under Creative Commons License.

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Comments (11)

You'll excuse me

if I conclude that this compendium of makeweight arguments is intended to put a gloss of rationality on the MCC's inevitable opposition to all things which acknowledge the right of gays to exist and prosper in America.

Perhaps, Mr. Adkins, you can tell us how Catholic elementary and secondary schools address or are told to address hostile acts directed at GLBT students. I hope (but doubt) that it's anything more than "Hate the sin, love the sinner."

It Is NOT Just What You "Claim" to Believe In

The Catholic Church, by its actions, makes the statements of Mr. Adkins out to be hypocrisy.

But then it's always difficult for bullies to recognize that they ARE bullies, nor to appreciate their own motivations, nor to realize that these are not acceptable excuses:

"I wouldn't have done that if he/she hadn't provoked me,"...

(typically in the halls of a school, by being an identifiable target when I needed to boost my own fragile ego by knocking someone else down - literally or figuratively)

or

"we're doing it for his/her own good."

In it's entire approach, the Catholic Church has been experienced as a bully by GLBT folk using both of these excuses while seeking to force them into compliance with its own ideas and ideals over and above God's creation of those people.

Since it remains unable to examine itself, let alone recognize its dysfunctions, and seek to remedy its very human shortcomings,...

we can only expect that it will continue to maintain its status and power by threats and bullying toward its members, which will only lead to its further diminishment into societal irrelevance.

Bullying is protected speech?

Basically the legal argument here is that bullying is protected speech. Interesting. I suppose an editorial in favor of abortion rights would fly right by the editors in a Catholic School newspaper without notice?

The Catholic Church bigotry shows once again.

Never mind that children are harassed, beaten, taunted and commit suicide because they are being bullied for being "different" and a lot of that "difference" is that they are gay, lesbian or trans-gender.

But let us not forget that the Catholic Church has labeled them based on their catechism, which states:

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

While I'd like to go as far as saying they're a "hate organization," I would rather think they are "intrinsically disordered" as they cling to their theophobic beliefs.

No church, including the Catholic Church, should have influence over secular government's role in defending the defenseless.

St. Thomas More

I repeat. If the arch diocese is doing such a great job with its current bullying policy then what happened at St. Thomas More where there was a clear incident of ongoing "heteralsexual" bullying.

Huh?

I like your list of "problems," none of which has a stitch of support. But let's look at that list, shall we?

-It's unconstitutional because someone said so? I don't buy it. I know lots of people who are willing to say all kinds of stuff in public. That doesn't mean they have a defensible position. I mean, c'mon, the guy who wrote the "First Amendment Nightmare" bit says something can be both discrete and overlapping. I can't bring myself to trust him for interpretation of lay language, let alone legalese.

-It imposes a mandate on public schools. Good. Take public money, play by public rules. I don't see how this is a problem.

-It's expensive...because schools are in a financial hole. That's...interesting logic. Besides which, some things are worth paying for. And if it costs money to implement the currently proposed law, it will cost money to implement ANY anti-bullying law.

-It doesn't protect all children? How do you figure? I'm pretty sure the language covers a whole lot more than sexual orientation. Read it: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF0783&session=ls88&ver...

Honestly, I really don't understand the Church's opposition to MN proposed law except for the inclusion of language that refers to sexual orientation. I read the ND law. What does it do (or not do) that makes it a happier result for the Catholic Church? Other than the obvious lack of mention of sexual orientation? Maybe because it appears to exclude "conduct" outside of a school, bus or school activity. Bullying anywhere else, including at private schools, doesn't really count because "conduct" is defined by an activity relating to public schools, and doesn't define such conduct with relation to private schools. Or perhaps because it does not require that a private school implement these public rules to get public funding? In other words, is the ND law better because Catholic schools are not reasonably required to implement them in order to get free taxpayer money?

What's interesting is that this article (and the cited references regarding constitutionality) suggest that the MN proposed law is unconstitutionally vague, yet at least one that they would herald, the ND one, makes it unclear whether bullying happens if the "conduct" never actually touches a public school. I guess only one version of vague works to allow bullying to continue for those who condone it.

Singled Out

Oh, so now they're saying bullying is wrong unless it's directed at the kids at highest risk of suicide? Way to go, Church. Jesus would puke.

Funds

I'm rather baffled that these two sentences appear side by side:

"Contrary to popular perception and a proffered justification of this bill, private schools do not receive public funds. Students of private schools that do not comply with the bill’s mandates may lose their individual pupil aid — including textbooks, counseling and nursing services."

So private schools don't receive public funds, but they lose individual pupil aid if they don't comply? Textbooks, counseling and nursing services are important components of an education: trying to single out those services seems to be a distinction without a difference.

With logic like that in this piece, perhaps this is not the most credible opinion to consider.

The ND law is much more vague

And it looks like it targets threats and school disruption, a lot could slip through the cracks. If someone is being hounded but not threatened, and it doesn't disrupt the whole school, it may not be bullying. You can inflict anguish and despair, just not fear.

Not speaking for me

Just to be clear I am Catholic and love practicing my religion but neither Mr Adkins nor the rest of the hierarchy speak for me in secular matters. Pay no attention to the man behind the mitre.

As decent Minnesotans we owe protection from bullying to all students even those who go to Catholic schools. Children are precious and should not be tortured byt heir peers, their teachers, or anyone's church.

The Church Want Some "Wiggle Room" So Gays Can Still Be Bullied

I suspect that the MCC is really worried that efforts to legally stop bullying will mean that people will have to stop bullying gays. And, it feels that gays really need to be bullied in order to get them to stop being gay.