Garm wrote:@Arrian: The flipside to freedom of religion is freedom from religion. If you're allowing people to bully in the name of their God then I think you're creating a class of protected speech based on religion.
The atheistic alternative is also protected: "You're a superstitious idjit because you believe in fairy tales about child mauling she bears!"
More importantly, though, is your concept of a special class of protected speech. I think you have that backwards, ALL speech is protected by default. There are some classes of speech that lose that protection (fighting words,
perjury, slander and libel, and disruptive speech in schools, for example) but the default is that speech is protective. Even cruel, hateful, abusive speech.
My default position is that anti-bullying laws shouldn't include provisions about verbal abuse. Schools are a special case that warrant consideration since we use the weight of government to force students to interact with each other, we have the responsibility to keep the situation safe and non-abusive. But I'm not totally sold on the concept of applying these laws to speech, especially if it means criminalizing speech.
I think schools should prevent any type of bullying and punish bad behavior, but I don't think the law should be involved for the most part. Involving the law makes two problems: It creates a set of rules that have to be explicitly broken to be enforced, meaning schools can't take an "I know it when I see it" approach to identifying bullying, and also criminalizing something creates significant, often disproportionate penalties when enforced.
The problem with explicit rules is that children (adults, too, see the corporate tax thread) learn how to follow the letter without actually complying with the rule. A law can't be structured in a way that says "don't be mean." (Think of all the conditionals required, so many actions can be good or bad depending on the contect. The law can't take all contexts into account.) But if you leave enforecement up to teachers, they can train the children in the norms of a civil society without being constrained by a limited list of verboten activities but no standing to enforce the overarching principle if an activity doesn't fit on the list. Of course, teachers can only be tertiary at this, parents have a much stronger influence, and peer groups have an even stronger influence, which makes enforcing anti-bullying through laws that can only impact at-school behavior even more problematic.
On the criminalization point, if a teacher can deal with a bully by not letting him go on recess, that's a relatively minor punishment that can be enforced without much concern. When a formal complaint against a bully can result in criminal charges, meaning that student might end up not being able to go to college or get a decent job in the future, the teacher will be much more conservative in enforcing it. Was bullying more or less of a problem a couple of generations ago before there were laws directing all the minutia of school activity, literally to the point of defining where teachers can and cannot store empty boxes?
tldr version: I'm in favor of schools informally, administratively intervening to prevent bullying, including punishing children for verbal abuse regardless of how the statements are structured. I am against making laws that criminalize speech, no matter how abhorrent, abusive or hateful. Finally, I think the current legal system has made it impossible for schools to act sanely in dealing with children, forcing them to act like a court system where rules have to be enforces based on their wording, not meaning, and discretion is removed.