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Candi Cushman

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All Kids Should Be Protected From Bullying

Posted: 09/10/10 02:46 PM ET

When you ask those who favor the bullying of children to please stand up, no one does – including us. It’s almost silly to have to respond to such an accusation made by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey in his Sept. 8 Huffington Post column where he claims Focus on the Family is an organization that “stands up for bullying.”

The truth is, we strongly support fair and objective bullying policies that protect every child against bullying of any kind for any reason. We realize this is a serious issue in our schools that too often has tragic consequences and simply must be addressed.

But considering that some 30 percent of American children are involved in bullying today, we feel the most effective way to do this is to develop policies that reflect the widespread nature of the problem, rather than focusing on certain aspects of it. After all, when the Founding Fathers wrote the words “all men are created equal,” they didn’t append a lengthy laundry list singling out certain characteristics as more worthy of protection than others and dividing human beings into competing categories.

Sen. Casey’s criticism of Focus on the Family was directed at our concerns about his bill, the Safe Schools Improvement Act. If passed, this bill would affect most K-12 schools nationwide, mandating that they insert special protections for homosexual categories such as sexual orientation and gender identity into their local policies.

While this might sound nice on the surface, it is problematic for several reasons: First, it represents yet another federal intrusion into an education issue that has traditionally been the domain of local communities. Does the federal government really need to get into the business of micromanaging our neighborhood school policies? Parents and school officials are most qualified to develop good policies based on their communities’ needs.

Second, we’ve carefully documented how similar laws at the state level have already been used to undermine parental rights and marginalize individuals whose viewpoints are perceived as incorrect by homosexual advocacy groups. In Alameda, Calif., for example, a similar law was used to justify mandating homosexuality sensitivity lessons for kids as young as six years old. Alameda parents were told they could not opt their children out for any reason—even if these lessons conflicted with their families’ deeply held religious convictions, or even if they just didn’t think their children were ready to handle controversial sexual topics at such a young age. While that may not be a concern shared by some of you who are reading this, how would you feel if the federal government forced your local schools to teach your children things that violated your deepest moral, ideological or spiritual beliefs—all at taxpayer expense?

I’ve also talked to parents in Illinois, where a law similar to Alameda’s was recently passed, who are at this moment trying to protect their elementary age children from being presented with homosexual-themed books and videos promoted in the name of “safe schools.” In fact, these parents discovered that a “safe schools” training done at their elementary school went so far as to list “family values” and “faith systems” as “perceived obstacles.” As one mom told me, ironically, the school system no longer felt very “safe” for her family’s viewpoint. How is that fair and equitable treatment?

This bill is a vehicle but Sen. Casey isn’t talking about who’s driving the car, which is why we feel it’s only fair to raise the question of how the bill’s biggest promoters plan to use it in our nation’s classroom.

During our recent debate on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Eliza Byard of GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), referred to the Safe Schools Improvement Act as “our bill.” That’s very interesting, considering that as part of its safe schools efforts, GLSEN calls for gay, lesbian and transgender themes to be “fully integrated into curricula across a variety of subject areas and grade levels.”  The fact is, not every parent in America wants homosexual issues presented during math and English classes – in the same way not every parent wants religious doctrine presented during public school classes. The difference? We all know the latter is strictly prohibited.

GLSEN also recently issued a press release asking educators to use its recommended book list as assigned “safe” school reading for kids. The problem is, several of the books on this list are not only extremely sexually graphic—but they also contain negative, even mocking, portrayals of people with conservative and faith-based viewpoints. (We’ve documented these concerns at TrueTolerance.org).

It’s unnecessary to politicize the issue in this way—and it goes way beyond bullying prevention into adult identity politics that bring divisiveness into classrooms. Let’s instead take a lesson from the Founding Fathers and unite around what we share in common as Americans – the unshakeable belief that all men are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, no matter what their political subgroup happens to be or how they sexually identify.

Candi Cushman is the education analyst for Focus on the Family and the creator of True Tolerance, an online tool that instructs parents on education law and policy so they can engage their local school officials.