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Tennessee Anti-Bullying Law Change Could Allow Students To Speak Out Against Gays For Religious Reasons: Report

Posted: 01/04/12 01:35 PM ET Updated: 01/05/12 10:02 AM ET

Teen Bullying

Less than one month after a local gay teen took his own life after allegedly being tormented at his high school, a proposed change in a Tennessee law could protect students who engage in anti-gay bullying if they do so for religious reasons.

As local news channel WSMV is reporting, the proposed law change by state lawmakers would allow students to speak out against homosexuality without punishment if that's what their religious beliefs call for. The bill is reportedly a top priority for the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee -- as the Chattanooga Times Free Press notes, the group's December newsletter says it hopes "to make sure [the law] protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality."

Added conservative activist David Fowler, a former Republican state senator who is now Family Action Council president: "The purpose is to stop bullying, not create special classes of people who are more important than others."

Still, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community activists, as well as local student groups, have cited the recent case of Jacob Rogers, who took his own life in December after friends say he was subjected to anti-gay remarks at his high school, in arguments against the law change. Leaders of the LGBT advocacy group Tennessee Equality Project contend the legislation would allow students to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief, according to the Associated Press.

"This kind of legislation can send a message that it's ok to hate and we'll even give you religious sanction for it," Tennessee Equality Project official Chris Sanders tells WSMV. "What if one student calls another one a sinner, or a sodomite or says you're perverted or you're unnatural or you are going to hell? That's where it gets really dicey."

Meanwhile, Fowler reportedly blamed Rogers' death on the student's struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, as well as an eating disorder, according to Nashville Scene.

Take a look at some other recent anti-gay bullying cases and other events below:


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  • Tyler Clementi

    The disturbing rash of LGBT teen suicides began receiving attention last fall. Among those who took their own life was Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York after his roommate allegedly filmed him having sex with another man.

  • Seth Walsh

    Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old California teen, hung himself in September 2010 after reportedly being bullied because he was gay.

  • Raymond S. Chase

    Gay Rhode Island-based student Raymond S. Chase, 19, became the fifth in 2010's disturbing spate of teen suicides last fall.

  • Obama's Anti-Bullying Video

    In October 2010, President Obama released a video in support of LGBT youth who were struggling with being bullied.

  • Pastor's Confession

    In November 2010, Jim Swilley, the pastor of a Georgia megachurch, revealed to his congregation that he is gay. The 52-year-old father of four said the recent spate of teen suicides, particularly that of Clementi, prompted him to change his mind. "For some reason his situation was kind of the tipping point with me," Swilley told CNN's Don Lemon this weekend.

  • Daniel Radcliffe Honored

    In June, "Harry Potter" actor Daniel Radcliffe was honored with the Trevor Project's "Hero" Award for his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/26/daniel-radcliffe-speaks-o_n_478960.html" target="_hplink">ongoing suicide prevention efforts</a> for LGBT youth.

  • Jamey Rodemeyer

    In September, Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Williamsville, N.Y., took his life Sunday after what his parents claim was years of bullying because of struggles with his sexuality, months after posting this "It Gets Better" clip on YouTube.

  • Lady Gaga's Dedication

    After vowing to stop bullying and make it illegal, Lady Gaga -- a longtime advocate for LGBT causes -- dedicated a performance to Rodemeyer at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. "I wrote this record about how your identity is really all you've got when you're in school," Gaga told the crowd. "So tonight, Jamey, I know you're up there looking at us, and you're not a victim. You're a lesson to all of us."

  • Bachmann Speaks Out

    Days after being faced with a petition that urged her to publicly address gay bullying in her district, Rep. Michele Bachmann noted, "That's not a federal issue," according to CBS News. Previously, Tammy Aaberg, the mother of Justin Aaberg, a gay teen in the Anoka-Hennepin school district who committed suicide after having been bullied in area schools, delivered petitions to Bachmann's office asking her for support.

  • Jamie Hubley

    Jamie Hubley, a gay 15-year-old from Ottawa, Canada, committed suicide Oct. 14. In this clip, the teen performs Mike Posner's "Cooler Than Me."

  • Hubley Tribute Video

    Friends created a poignant tribute video to Hubley, the Canadian 10th grader who committed suicide on Friday.

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Filed by Curtis M. Wong  |