June 27, 2013: On June 21, the U. S. Dept. of Education posted in the Federal Register a proposal to add sexual orientation and religion to the types of bullying complaints on which schools will be required to collect data and report vis a vis civil rights compliance. As Jane Meredith Adams reported yesterday on EdSource:
Data are already collected about student harassment based on gender, race, national origin or disability, which are considered protected classes under federal law. Federal civil rights laws do not cover harassment based on sexual orientation...The sexual orientation harassment question is among several additional categories the education department is proposing to add to its next survey. Other proposed changes include new inquiries about involuntary student transfers between schools, the number of school days missed in out-of-school suspensions, and the number of school psychologists, social workers and school resource officers employed by schools. The proposed new survey questions would be asked of every school district in the country during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years; the public comment period on the proposed changes will close Aug. 20, 2013....California collects its own data on anti-gay bullying through the California Healthy Kids Survey, a statewide survey developed for the state Department of Education by WestEd... According to the 2008-2010 survey, the latest available, 13 percent of seventh grade boys and 10 percent of seventh grade girls in California reported having been bullied or harassed because of their sexual orientation or their perceived sexual orientation...
And religious bullying? One reason we don't hear much about it is because the "religious right" (e.g., Focus on the Family's True Tolerance project and the Alliance Defending Freedom) oppose anti-bullying policies in public schools, arguing that "many anti-bullying policies are an attempt at political indoctrination. The organizations warn schools "to avoid anti-bullying materials produced by 'homosexual activist groups'," according to a report (October 2012) on the blog, Church & State. (A more detailed essay on "How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids," can be read on People For the American Way blog, "Right Wing Watch."
A second reason is, religious bullying is...complicated. One form -- bullying members of a faith that is in a minority in the U.S., e.g., Muslims or Hindus -- is, while reprehensible, consistent with our definitions of bullying; a more subtle form, however, is that of evangelical Christians creating environments in public schools that target not only members of other faith groups and athiests, but non-evangelical Christians as well.
In "Bullying in the Name of God," an article published (August 2012) in Psychology Today, Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizations Psychology at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, wrote:
"...school-sponsored programs in some states (e.g., Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Virginia)... allow release time for students to attend off-site evangelical Christian education. Termed Weekday Religious Education (WRE), these programs are presumably only offered to Christian students, who study the bible and, according to one account, allow students to develop a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”...
The roots of discrimination and prejudice involve psychological processes, such as in-group/out-group biases (the “we-they” feeling), and social dominance, whereby one group (the in-group) is considered superior to outgroup members. WRE programs, particularly in communities where the vast majority of students are Christian, by their very nature, incerase the potential for discrimination and bullying. This is an important issue because if programs such as these are allowed to exist they increase the potential for school bullying (I personally think that WRE programs, despite the Supreme Court ruling that allows WRE if it is held off of the school site, still implicitly violates separation of church and state).
One might imagine that a similar situation could arise from a school-sponsored sex education that discusses only heterosexuality (or worse, treats homosexuality as an aberration), would increase the potential for discrimination and bullying against gay students, or students of gay parents."
While the focus now is on the U.S. Dept. of Education's inclusion of sexual orientation as a bullying category for public school data collection and analysis, the overlooked addition of religious bullying is reminiscent of the "gender" inclusion in the '64 Civil Rights Act: it is a spectre rising on the horizon, one that will prove to be a flashpoint for Supreme Court decisions (equal protection/establishment clause) in the future as we move forward from the right to privacy in the bedroom to the right of privacy in the soul.