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Catholic Church ramps up opposition to Minnesota anti-bullying bill

MinnPost file photo by Beth Hawkins
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has come out strongly against proposed anti-bullying legislation, linking it to the push to legalize same-sex marriage.

Calling it an extension of the push to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, the Catholic Church is urging parishoners to call on lawmakers to reject an anti-bullying law.

According to a column in the Catholic Spirit, the official publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the proposed Safe Schools legislation is an “Orwellian nightmare” that would “usurp parental rights” and create “re-education camps.”

The column was written by Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which represents all Catholics dioceses in the state.

In addition to imposing burdensome legal mandates on parochial schools, the Roman Catholic Church also has argued in communications to parishioners that the law would unfairly discriminate against students who oppose same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights.

“The bill’s proponents want to require private schools to follow the mandates of the law as well,” an action alert from the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network warned. “If a Catholic school refuses to comply, its students could lose their pupil aid, such as textbooks, school nurses, and transportation.” 

(While private schools in Minnesota do not receive per-pupil tuition dollars per se, they do receive many of the same ancillary funds as public schools.)

Separate, parallel bills creating and funding the Safe and Supportive Schools Act are in the final stages of going to the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives for a vote by the full membership. Passage roughly along party lines is expected.

At 37 words long, Minnesota’s current anti-bullying statute is frequently described as one of the weakest in the nation. It doesn’t define bullying and harassment or require districts to track or report complaints or mandate efforts toward creating healthy school climates.

The proposed measure is based on the work of a task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in the fall of 2011, after the GOP-dominated Legislature rejected efforts to strengthen the law. A wave of student suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District had drawn wide attention to the bullying issue.

Last August, the task force submitted its recommendations, along with a plea for policymakers to act on them with “a strong sense of urgency.”

Among other best practices, the panel looked closely at the terms of a settlement among Anoka-Hennepin, a group of students who filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court here and the U.S. departments of Justice and Education. That agreement had been hailed as a potential national model.

The arguments raised by opponents of the Anoka-Hennepin settlement, most of them religious conservatives and proponents of conversion, or “pray away the gay” therapy, mirror those now being advanced by the archdiocese.

The Catholic Church has gone a step further, however, in linking the issue to same-sex marriage. The Archdiocese spent at least $650,000 in 2011 and 2012 campaigning to secure a constitutional ban on gay marriage; numerous dioceses and Catholic groups around the country donated hundreds of thousands of dollars more.      

“The redefinition of marriage should not be seen as a stand-alone act,” the Catholic Spirit’s March column explained. “It is the harbinger of broader social change aimed at creating gender and sexual ‘freedom’ and breaking down the supposedly repressive social norm of heterosexual monogamy. And it is accompanied by other significant pieces of legislation working their way through Minnesota’s Legislature that should be resisted just as vigorously as same-sex ‘marriage.’”

Specific language in the bill protecting students from religious harassment and recognizing their constitutional right to free religious speech hasn’t satisfied critics, who have warned that schools will be forced to “teach same-sex marriage.” Both the recognition of same-sex marriage and the Safe Schools legislation will protect select groups of individuals at the cost of the rights and safety of others, the Archodiocesan communications argue.

“If marriage is redefined, the coercion of silence will enter the legal sphere, where real penalties will befall those so-called ‘bigots’ who ‘discriminate’ by clinging to the traditional definition of marriage,” the Catholic Spirit said. “The schools are the ideal place to foster this new regime of ‘tolerance,’ and forcefully suppress any bad thoughts or ‘hate’ speech that may emerge.”

The arguments are buttressed by testimony from Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten and from University of St. Thomas professor Michael Stokes Paulsen, described as a nationally recognized constitutional law expert.

Paulsen’s writings in opposition to abortion rights and Obamacare have been published by the Whitherspoon Institute, the same religious-right think tank that helped underwrite a widely criticized University of Texas study suggesting that life outcomes were dramatically worse for children whose parents had a same-sex relationship.    

Michael Bayly, director of Catholics for Marriage Equality,  is also the author of “Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective.” He disagrees with the archdiocese’s position, but said he understands it.

“I think they are frightened that their teaching on homosexuality is going to be seen as putting people in danger,” Bayly said. “And I think a good case can be made for that. They are in a bind.”

This wasn’t always the case, he pointed out. “There was a time in the mid- to late-’90s when the archdiocese was open to our group going in and working with teachers to do sensitivity training about the LGBT community and creating safe schools.”

By way of example, Bayly pointed to an entry on his blog, The Wild Reed, reprinting a 1998 Catholic Spirit column defending the archdiocese’s support for providing pastoral care for LGBT students and diversity training in Catholic schools:

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“Training offered to Catholic high school faculty and administrators teaches that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people deserve to be respected and treated with the dignity all God’s creatures have a right to expect, [archdiocesan Catholic Education and Formation Ministries (CEFM)] officials said, and to oppose efforts such as the GLBT initiatives is to oppose church teaching.

“Church teaching calls for respect for everyone,” [CEFM staffer Jane] Hilger said. “We are putting forward what Jesus taught — you respect everyone.”

A member of the Senate Education Committee, Andover Republican Branden Peterson supports same-sex marriage. But he opposes the Safe Schools bill for several reasons.

In his opinion, they include:  It’s too prescriptive to pass constitutional muster, and its chief funding mechanism is a special levy, which is problematic for private schools which cannot assess property owners. By mentioning things like economic justice, its language suggests an ideological agenda; and its cost — which he pegs at $52 million over the next biennium — would more than absorb the “fairly pedestrian” $52-per-pupil increase in the basic education formula proposed by the Senate. 

The Senate’s DFL leadership, he added, has proposed postponing the implementation of statewide teacher evaluations because it has not appropriated money to pay for the new assessment system. An early proponent of the performance reviews, Peterson would like to see them funded before new mandates are imposed.  

“Senator [Scott] Dibble” — a Minneapolis DFLer and the chief author of both the same-sex marriage bill and Safe Schools — “and I have obviously agreed on certain social justice issues,” Peterson said. “I happen to believe, as do many, that we ought to be treating all instances of bullying equally.”

For his part, Dibble expects two remaining Senate committees to endorse the anti-bullying policy legislation — funding is wrapped into the omnibus education finance bills — this week. Its House counterpart is awaiting a floor vote.

“All we are asking folks to do is to make sure a school setting is safe and allows a child to learn,” he said. “Why should it be so hard to make sure kids are not singled out for harassment?

“The archdiocese has done nothing to sit down and problem-solve what would be best for kids,” Dibble concluded. “The truth is bullying is a problem we have to solve. It happens every day and it is a real problem.”

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/22/2013 - 10:43 am.


    I often hear from lay Catholics that I should never mind the bad things the Church does or teaches–the Church does so many good and wonderful things, and has a great commitment to social justice. The hierarchy? Well, yes, but “MY parish is not like that.”

    Now, we see what nonsense this is. The hierarchy locally is so concerned about their dogma being challenged (does anyone think they’re really THAT worried about being called bigots?) that they will oppose state laws to stop schoolchildren from being bullied. Their dogma is more important than the lives of those whom they purport to care for. On a global level, we have just seen Pope Francis uphold the discipline of nuns who didn’t put fighting legal abortion first (apparently, these heretics were more concerned about the suffering of poor people).

    So no, I don’t believe it anymore. I don’t care how many canned goods are in your parish food shelf, or how much litter the kids in the parochial school pick up, or how much fun your folk mass is. All of that is just window dressing: the real agenda is enacting medieval dogma into law for all of us to obey. I’ll pass, thanks.

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/22/2013 - 10:46 am.

    Good one

    So, in addition to throwing lots of money that could be used to do good for the poor, the sick, and the hungry, to trying to keep gay people from having the same legal rights as everyone else, the Church, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that gay children (and/or those perceived to be gay), too, should be fairly treated as inferior creatures to human beings. In order to supposedly save money on schools…money that they’re spending on campaigns to denigrate gay people. Quite frankly, I support removing pupil aid from religious schools regardless of where this bill goes. The good ol’ tax dollar should have the same rules on both ends regarding religious freedoms.

  3. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 04/22/2013 - 11:09 am.

    Read the Bill

    Reading the text of the bill would reassure even a complete skeptic that not only does the legislation not promote same sex marriage or other lifestyles, it specifically prohibits bullying based on religion or creed.

    As a Catholic I assumed that minimum requirements for the well-paid position of lobbyist for the Catholic Conference included basic reading skills. Jason Adkins has once again proved me wrong.

    All Minnesota children deserve protection from bullies including bullies that pretend to be religious organizations!

  4. Submitted by Sherry Enzler on 04/22/2013 - 11:55 am.

    I am so disappointed with this arch bishop who’s conservative agenda outweighs his concern for the poor, our young people, the aging and the sick without health care. One must ask if the diocese does such a nice job handling bullies in its schools then what happened at St. Thomas More where a young 8th grade girl was consistently bullied by a group of boys enrolled at St. Thomas More. The bullying was so bad that she felt forced by the bullies to give one of their number oral sex to stop the bullying. This diocese has demonstrated time and again must be held accountable by the larger society for their treatment of young people. When they are beyond reproach, then let them ask for an exemption.

  5. Submitted by Jim Englert on 04/22/2013 - 12:02 pm.

    Imprudent and Impudent

    Details of this bill may render opposition not totally unreasonable. Sad for us who love the Church, though, is the astounding lack of judgment throughout this entire affair that has now positioned the Church to be seen as standing firmly in favor of bullying. Catholicism has long positioned Prudence as the central virtue in political life. But the Church’s leadership, here and now, seems both highly imprudent in act and impudent in attitude.

  6. Submitted by Todd Adler on 04/22/2013 - 12:21 pm.


    Doesn’t the Catholic church have some poor people to help out? Of all the horrible things in the world to focus on, they’re getting worked up about anti-bullying legislation? How about environmental degradation instead? Or out of control executive salaries? Or people getting their homes foreclosed even today as the economy improves? There are so many more worthy causes for them to spend their time and energy on. If anything they should get behind this legislation and help move it forward.

    The sky must be green and the grass blue in their world.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/22/2013 - 12:42 pm.

    It’s one of Jesus’s lesser know sayings, “Bless the bully, because they enforce societal norms.”

  8. Submitted by Peter Swanson on 04/22/2013 - 12:48 pm.

    How Many Degrees of Separation?

    Let’s look at this paragraph:

    “Paulsen’s writings in opposition to abortion rights and Obamacare have been published by the Whitherspoon Institute, the same religious-right think tank that helped underwrite a widely criticized University of Texas study suggesting that life outcomes were dramatically worse for children whose parents had a same-sex relationship.”

    Paulsen wrote something (“A”) that was published by X. X funded a study (“B”) that was widely criticized. Therefore, we should be suspicious of A.

    If we are going to practice guilt by association, why not just mention that he is a professor at a Catholic law school?

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 04/23/2013 - 04:19 pm.

      Sorry Peter

      I guess you never question the legitimacy of articles printed in the National Enquirer?

      • Submitted by Peter Swanson on 04/25/2013 - 10:17 am.

        The true analogy…

        …Jackson, would be if a company funded many things, including the National Enquirer. Then a professor has something published in something else funded by the company. Finally, the professor would write a third piece, not published by the National Enquirer or with any connection to the company.

        Whew. My head is spinning.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/22/2013 - 12:53 pm.

    An odd sort of Christianity

    Hmmm… Let’s see. How to demonstrate the love and forgiveness of Jesus, not to mention his acceptance of everyone from prostitutes to Pharisees?

    I know, let’s allow the continued bullying of kids in our schools who some of us think might be homosexual, all the while accepting, without even a hint of humility, the tax dollars of non-Catholics. That way, we can perpetuate our religious agenda in the minds of our own young people so that they’ll be able to continue to discriminate against folks they don’t like when they grow up.

    Sometimes the hypocrisy of Catholic dogma and church hierarchy manage to be truly jaw-dropping. I’m with Ms. Kahler on this one: if you take the money, you obey the rules. If you simply cannot obey the rules because of deeply felt religious conviction, then be prepared to pay those bills yourself, out of your own pocket, and be prepared to be hauled into court for violating, if nothing else, the 14th Amendment’s “equal treatment” clause.

    Sadly, at least for the local Archbishop and his followers, we’re no longer in Medieval Europe. We don’t live in a theocracy here, and he doesn’t get to make the rules.

  10. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 04/22/2013 - 01:03 pm.


    I guess bullying is better than tainting the received wisdom. Is that the reasoning behind pedophilia in the Catholic church?

  11. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 04/22/2013 - 03:22 pm.

    The so-called Catholic church lost the original spirit…

    of Christianity about the time it became an institution charged with enforcing dogma a couple hundred years after the death of Christ.

    In the middle ages those who wouldn’t repent and acknowledge the power and truth of the Church were burned at the stake. BURNED! Even our bullies don’t think of that. So which came first: the Church deciding that burning people to death was wrong or civil authorities telling them it was no longer acceptable? I’m betting the latter. They didn’t do much about priest pedophilia until they started getting sued and prosecuted.

    Hopefully someday the people in the pews will wake up and realize that the little good the Church does is outweighed by the evil. Crumbs for the poor, a palace for the pope.

  12. Submitted by John ODonnell on 04/22/2013 - 03:33 pm.

    Anti-bullying legislation

    As a Roman Catholic on leave of absence, it seems to me that this Archbishop is an Orwellian nightmare. Can anyone just tell him to be quiet for a change?

    • Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 04/24/2013 - 08:09 am.

      The Archbishop

      How about we start a petition to get him to resign. He wakes up every morning and tries to figure new and horrible ways to get his name in the paper. He is the Bishops version of Kim Kardashian, without the looks.

  13. Submitted by Joe Musich on 04/22/2013 - 07:58 pm.

    Are you predicting …

    the tripe the Star and Tribune will publish in Kattherine Kerstan’s columns coming up ?

  14. Submitted by Martin Owings on 04/22/2013 - 09:04 pm.

    Questioning the Church

    Clearly this is yet more evidence that the Church has lost it’s way. I’d think the last place they’d want to go right now is someplace that deals with sexuality. I agree with many experts who believe the Pope quit because of the massive scandal at his door and the Church has a lot to answer for that it still has not. It’s continued stonewalling on the sexual abuse tragedy and failure to confront the monsters who perpetrated those acts should be it’s first and only concern when it comes to such matters. In other words they should start questioning themselves a whole lot more and begin to see justice not just as social, but also individual.

    Furthermore, if the Church can spend $650,000.00 on a campaign against those it claims compassion for, shouldn’t Catholics ask that those dollars (the ones Catholics contribute to the church) be directed toward fulfilling Christ’s teachings of love?

  15. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 04/23/2013 - 08:04 am.


    Do these guys still have tax exempt status? More bullying of legislators?

  16. Submitted by Joe Mitzel on 04/23/2013 - 09:25 am.

    Archbully opposes anti-bullying

    So, let’s see, the man with a strong pattern of mean-spirited bullying strongly opposes bullying? The man who was the chief mover behind a political campaign littered with deeply demeaning anti-gay propoganda would welcome legislation aimed at protecting “ALL students.”


    I am a church-going Catholic more interested in saving my church from extremism and bigotry than in attacking it. Even if one starts assuming good intent on the Archbishops part (something he likely does not deserve) can we even trust this guy to recognize bullying? Can we trust him to respect the dignity of “ALL students?” I think not. His actions speak so much more clearly than these latest words.

    Things will get better, but probably not under the leadership of this Archbishop and his disastrous leadership of this archdiocese.

    Joe Mitzel

  17. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/23/2013 - 09:55 am.

    In This and So Many Other Ways

    The unchangeable (by God or its members) local hierarchy of the Catholic church gives its members an ultimatum:

    you MUST worship US; OUR ideas, beliefs and practices (even though they may be considerably different from our recent predecessors’), as if WE have a direct connection to God that you, yourselves can’t possibly have,…

    and IGNORE each and every way that the Holy Spirit is calling you, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute to become more Christ-like in your ability to love, understand, help, and even take “unwise” risks on behalf of those whom society (and your church) sees as outcasts.

    If you do NOT chose to worship us in place of God, and follow what WE tell you while ignoring the inspirations of the Holy Spirit,…

    and if we become aware that you have done so,…

    we will refuse to provide you with communion by which we believe we sentence you to eternity in the worst of the Spanish Inquisition,..

    (as if God cares in the least whether or not you partake of their officially-sanctioned wafers and wine once each week,…

    as opposed to privately remembering and communing with Jesus as you eat and drink each day while you continue to seek inspiration and guidance regarding how to be more faithful to his calls to you as a disciple).

    The leadership of the Catholic Church clearly has a death wish for Catholicism. They are slowly killing their church because they cannot and will not seek nor respond to God. With each new pronouncement and effort along these lines, they pounds another nail in their church’s own coffin.

    It may be decades before what they’re working so hard to bring about is finally accomplished, but by the time it does, no one will even notice they’re gone nor miss them.

    Meanwhile God will continue to be very busy bringing into the world and human society all the things God knows are needed, working with those who are willing to respond to God’s inspirations wherever they can be found,…

    some as parts of faith expressions that point beyond themselves and, with open minds and hearts, guide their members to seek for God’s inspiration, and assist them in bringing into being what they’ve been inspired to create…

    and some as individuals who may have no idea from whence their inspirations: the images in their imaginations, the thoughts in their minds, the sensitivities of their hearts or new awareness that periodically bubble up from deep within them come,…

    but who base wonderful new creation on those inspirations nonetheless.

    If, indeed, the Catholic church stubbornly continues to make itself less and less relevant to what God is trying to bring into the world and into human society, and, thereby, ceases to exist,…

    it will not make one muon’s worth of difference to God.

  18. Submitted by travis Johnson on 04/23/2013 - 10:49 am.

    get your knowlege strait

    While it is true that Jesus (mainly) hung out with what would qualify as “sinners”, He also would show them the error of their ways. And most if not all of the time they would come to a place of repentence. At which time Jesus would forgive them while telling them to go and sin no more.
    Just because Jesus hung out with these “sinners” doesn’t mean that He accepted the “sin”.
    He called Christians to “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
    Why is it that if I want to take a stand for my faith that I am labled a bigot? Yet others who blast my faith are heros. Sounds to me like a double standerd.
    Just say’n

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/23/2013 - 11:34 am.

      Take a stand for your faith

      Does “taking a stand” mean condoning bullying? If “taking a stand” means opposing an anti-bullying law because it won’t allow schools to accept public money to teach children that some of them are evil, and going to hell, then yes, you are a bigot.

      Incidentally, Jesus never said “love the sinner, hate the sin.” He did, however, say “love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.” Matthew 5:44. Hassling middle school kids who happen to be “different” was not on the agenda.

    • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 04/23/2013 - 12:51 pm.

      Earning God’s Mercy and Forgiveness

      God’s mercy and forgiveness comes free of charge. You can not earn it. Period. Who are you to put qualifications and restrictions on it?

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 04/24/2013 - 01:32 pm.

      I’m not catholic. The state is not catholic. In fact, most of the world is not catholic. What catholics consider sins are not necessarily what the state considers sins. Yeah, it’s bigoted to be anti-gay to such a degree that you would decline protection to gay kids who are being assaulted, bullied, and are far more prone to suicide (hey, a sin!) than their peers. Religious justifications for bigotry should not influence public policy, and it’s ridiculous that an institution based on stone-age mysticism has such sway over the process.

      Nobody is “blasting your faith” by taking moderate steps to ensure that gay kids have it a little easier. It has nothing to do with catholicism but for the church shoehorning itself into this process. If the catholic church is tired of being called out on their bigotry, I would suggest that they change their perspective instead of forcing it on everyone else.

  19. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 04/23/2013 - 02:37 pm.

    Not hard to explain

    Travis, I think I can explain this to you, “Why is it that if I want to take a stand for my faith that I am labled a bigot? Yet others who blast my faith are heros. Sounds to me like a double standerd.” If you use your faith as a reason to persecute others, you’re a bigot. If you’re a hero, you blast the faith that provides an excuse to the persecutors.

    So leave people in peace when they don’t share your faith, and you won’t be a bigot.

  20. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/23/2013 - 03:07 pm.

    A century or two of true contrition, humility, and tolerance…

    …would go a long way to restoring some moral authority to the Catholic church.

    Hasn’t the church noticed it is widely regarded as corrupt?

  21. Submitted by J'M S on 04/29/2013 - 10:46 pm.

    a Politicized and intrusive Catholic Church

    This church needs to either bow out of their incessant political involvement or start payng taxes as a political organization. Where is the IRS in all of this? I am fed up with this excessively intrusive and unconstitutional behavior of late.

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