Honored and Esteemed Members of the New Jersey State Senate:
Your chamber has been at the forefront of innovation on countless important issues that affect our communities and our nation.Your wise leadership creates the vision that directs the lives of millions of New Jerseyans, and the vast number of people who look to you for guidance. The well-being and the character the state and nation, and our communities along with them, is shaped by your decisions.
I write you as the chief administrator for the Community Guardians Group, an advocacy group for religiously-minded voters in the tri-state area who seek to advance the tradition of eternal values in our approach to matters of state.
A Plague of Worthlessness.
There is a plague that is tearing across all of our communities, in New Jersey and across the nation.People’s hearts are wearied by uncertainty for the future, and are being invaded by feelings of worthlessness.The anger, fear and frustration that each of us face on a daily basis rises towards the boiling point.A spirit of mockery and scorn has spilled over into the minds of our children as well, pushing even good and well meaning kids into mean and petty displays of disparaging each other.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights which you will vote on today marks a historic moment for the state and nation.With this draft, the state of New Jersey has sent a message that it understands the vast effect of the problem of school bullying and has defined the full scope of its powers to respond.But before the honored Senators cast their votes in favor of this bill, I implore the Senators to measure their passion for justice, and their noble desire for change, to clearly recognize the unintended problems that lurk in implementing this proposal.
New Jersey has taken a strong stance against bias of any kind.The law governing acceptable conduct in the state’s schools reflects the state’s determination to root out crimes against person or property that are motivated by the ugly specter of racism and other biases.
In an attempt to put a stop to children bullying each other, a decision was made to step beyond the protections that your wise Legislature has established until now.Recognizing that words of shame and ridicule can be even more devastating to a child (or any person, for that matter) than even the blows of a fist or the strike of a weapon, this bill seeks to put a stop to emotional bullying as well.However, in an attempt to define clearer standards of harassment, this bill threatens to unleash even greater potential for harassment than it proposes to combat.
The current law sets out categories of students who are protected from acts of harassment (see p. 10, line 20-28)P.L.2002, c.83 (C.18A:37-14).This bill, however takes a step beyond protecting physical harassment, which is in the nature of “bias intimidation” or “hate crime,” and uses the same categories to forbid acts that would “emotionally” harm a student (page 10, line 30 and 32).The Legislature wades into a very difficult and dangerous place when it takes on the role of regulating speech in the defense of people’s emotions.
First, by using the state’s protected categories to define “emotional” protection for students, the Legislature would create a “pecking order,” sending a clear message that the feelings of some students are more important than the feelings of others.While it may be noble to prevent acts of violence or destruction of property motivated by bias,to protect “emotional harm” from bias puts the school in the unseemly business of playing favorites, picking and choosingwhich students’ emotions are more worthy of protection than others.
There is no evidence that a child who is harassed because he is black, disabled, or gay (and thus in a protected category) suffers any more pain than a child who is insulted because he is poor or unpopular (and thus not in a protected category).At its best, this bill merely teaches children to be more artful and deliberate in their choice of insults to use on each other.
Second, to broadly penalize any act that will create a “hostile environment” at school (p 10, line 37) introduces a bafflingly vague standard that risks subordinating the entire school administration to the subjective whims of each child.Or worse, this vague standard provides a ready weapon for an unethical teacher to bully a student to whom he or she may have taken a personal distaste, even if the child has not committed any act punishable by the rest of the school code.A teacher could seize on any comment made by a child and brand it as creating a “hostile environment,” and subject that child to the new regime of investigation and discipline for harassment.As a result, the teacher may become the ultimate bully, and the free exchange of ideas will become chilled and free thought stifled.
Third, the bill takes the list protected categories of students, which was designed to protect against criminal violence and destruction of property, and transforms it into new ethical code, effectively regulating the free speech of students in any manner that touches on the protected categories.The “Week of Respect” (page 20, line 33) called for by the statute and the subsequent expansion of “emotional” protections for certain students effectively outlaws any moral or religious beliefs that are not in concert with the statute.
Specifically, there are a significant numbers of students, parents and communities in New Jersey who hold religious beliefs that unambiguously reject the premise that homosexuality is a valid social role. Please bear in mind that these are not fringe zealots, but a bulwark of faith-minded Jewish and Christian people who are opposed to the state’s efforts to give the mark of approval to relationships that the Bible teaches to be spiritually, emotionally and socially destructive.
According to this bill, any student that comes from a religious tradition that regards homosexual thoughts and acts as sinful, will now become the target of bullying of his classmates, teachers, school administrators as well as the State of New Jersey.These students will be told conclusively, legally, that their religious views are wrong, evil, and un-American. A student who might say to a classmate, even politely, that he believes homosexuality is sinful, could risk getting in trouble with school officials for inciting “harassment.”
The Nobility of the Human Spirit.
This bill does correctly identify the need to cultivate respect among children.However, the way to achieve respect is not by handing out punishments for all those who might make a comment that could be interpreted by another student as offensive.
I implore the Senators today to work together to enact a law that would focus instead, on cultivating respect for thegreat potential of the human spirit, and an appreciation for the richness of our shared heritage of collective wisdom. The “Week of Respect” may more properly be addressed to recognizing all people as having been endowed by their Creator with great value and noble potential; strengthening the foundational values shared by all nations and fostering the brotherhood of all mankind.
Thank you for your sincere attempts to guide the people of this state with wisdom and compassion.We greatly appreciate the great benefits of safety, prosperity and peace which your leadership has made possible.