House Republicans To Remove Religious Exemption From Anti-Bullying Bill

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email
Democrats are hoping the change will stick

The Michigan Capitol is shown at twilight Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, in Lansing, Mich. Lawmakers continue work on budget bills that deal with a $2.8 billion shortfall before an Oct. 1 deadline. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

LANSING -- House Republicans are likely to nix a controversial religious exemption from their version of anti-bullying legislation when they take it up next week, according to a top aide.

Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, told News 10 on Sunday, "It's safe to say there's not much support in the House for the legislation as it's written."

There was a public outcry, including a scathing rebuke from State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, after Senate Republicans passed a bill this past week stating schools' anti-bullying policies can't "prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."

Democrats and education officials worried that line would essentially create a "license to bully" situation in which students could bully someone, then claim they did so for moral or religious reasons.

Adler said Bolger and other leading Republicans in the House support legislation, instead, that is "general and nature, and doesn't enumerate any specific groups."

Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, also told News 10 on Sunday night he would support removing that the religious exemption.

Democrats are praising that move.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, called the change a major victory for those who had publicly decried the controversial Senate bill.

"We can't miss this opportunity," she told News 10. "Forty-seven other states have passed laws to protect victims. The Michigan Republican Senate passed one that protects bullies, and that's a shame and an embarrassment. The House can, and I believe they will, do better."

The House Education Committee will take up the legislation this week.

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