Anti-bullying bullies attack free speech

A debate on gay adoption in a Wisconsin school newspaper turned into a lesson on the dangers of anti-bullying over-reach, writes Eugene Volokh.

The Shawano High School newspaper decided to run dueling student opinion pieces on whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt children; the student article that answered the question “no” said, among other things, quotes Leviticus 20:13 (“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.”). The school district then publicly apologized for the column, as an “[o]ffensive article[] cultivating a negative environment of disrespect,” and said that it is “taking steps to prevent items of this nature from happening in the future.” And in a Fox interview, the school superintendent labeled the column a form of “bullying.”

Public schools can decide to control what’s published in student newspapers, writes Volokh, a law professor.   But labeling a student’s opinion as “bullying” is troubling. Under district policy, “bullying” may lead to “warning, suspension, exclusion, pre-expulsion, expulsion, transfer, remediation, termination, or discharge.”

The Shawano incident shows how easy it is for schools to define “bullying” to include “political advocacy and expression of religious views,” Volokh writes.

Schools and anti-bullying activists have adopted “overbroad definitions of bullying,” argues Hans Bader on Open Market. When “eye-rolling” can be defined as bullying, the First Amendment is in trouble, he writes.

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