Ontario: Anti-abortion speech is ‘bullying’

Politicians are trying to suppress political speech by calling it “bullying,” charges Hans Bader. He’s got a doozy of an example from Canada: Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten says Catholic schools can’t tell students abortion is wrong because anti-abortion speech is “misogyny,” which is banned by Bill 13, the anti-bullying law.

Religious schools are subject to censorship, Broten said.

“We do not allow and we’re very clear with the passage of Bill 13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violates human rights and which brings a lack of acceptance to participation in schools,” she said. …

. . . “Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny, taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.”

U.S. protections for free speech are much stronger than in Canada, but some school administrators have tried to bully students who disapprove of homosexuality, Bader writes.

When a Wisconsin high school newspaper ran dueling student opinion pieces on whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt children, the student who took the “no” side was accused of bullying – which can lead to expulsion – by the superintendent.

However, a conservative Christian student successfully challenged a school “harassment” code that punished students who oppose homosexuality, Bader writes. In Saxe v. State College Area School District (2001), a federal appeals court ruled there is no “harassment” exception to the First Amendment for speech which offends members of minority groups.

Counseling student can sue university

A conservative Christian, Julea Ward was expelled from a master’s program in counseling because she referred a gay client who wanted to discuss his orientation to another counselor. Ward said she couldn’t be supportive.  When Eastern Michigan University kicked her out of the program for anti-gay bias, she sued, charging religious bias and infringement of her free-speech rights. Ward’s suit was revived by a federal appeals court, which threw out a summary judgment, reports Education Week.

“Although the university submits it dismissed Ward from the program because her request for a referral violated the ACA code of ethics, a reasonable jury could find otherwise — that the code of ethics contains no such bar and that the university deployed it as a pretext for punishing Ward’s religious views and speech,” Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote for the panel. “What exactly did Ward do wrong in making the referral request?” Sutton added. “If one thing is clear after three years of classes, it is that Ward is acutely aware of her own values. The point of the referral request was to avoid imposing her values on gay and lesbian clients.”

If a counselor disapproved of my lifestyle or beliefs, I’d prefer a referral to a pretense of support.

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.