The Good-Hearted, Wrong-Headed Anti-Bullying Campaign

Cross-posted from Open Market

“It launched a hundred ‘anti-bullying’ initiatives at all levels of
government, but much of what you think you know about” the Tyler Clementi case
“is probably wrong,” notes
legal commentator Walter Olson
at Overlawyered, the world’s oldest law
blog. Andrew
Sullivan
discusses this as well, linking to Ian
Parker’s article in The
New Yorker
.

We wrote earlier about how the current
panic over bullying
is leading to attacks
on free
speech
, political
debate
, and free
association
in the schools; political
pandering
; dishonest stretching
of existing federal laws
by federal officials; and violations
of basic principles of federalism.

Reason‘s Jacob Sullum writes
about New Jersey’s massively-long “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” enacted after
Clementi’s suicide at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, and how it infringes on
free speech and imposes illegal unfunded mandates. When New Jersey passed this
incredibly complicated anti-bullying law, which contains 18
pages of “required components
,” that gave a huge boost to a burgeoning
“anti-bullying” industry that seeks to define bullying as broadly as possible
(to include things like “eye-rolling,
or always associating with the same group of friends) in order to create demand
for its services. Hundreds of New Jersey schools “snapped
up
a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page
manual
.”

Rod Dreher sees
a lesson from the Clementi case about jumping to conclusions:

I too thought that Clementi had been outed after Ravi filmed him having sex.
As Parker shows, Clementi was not closeted, and he wasn’t filmed having sex.
And yes, Dharun Ravi [who is being prosecuted for hate crimes over the filming
that allegedly caused Clementi’s suicide] is an ass. But he is not facing
criminal trial for being an ass. This is what moral panic does. . .It is hard for
me to be fair [to the defendant] in these particular cases, but it is necessary
to fight against my own instincts in this case and in every case. You too.

The Obama administration’s StopBullying.gov website defines bullying
incredibly broadly in ways that conflict with freedom of speech and common
sense. It defines “teasing
as a form of “bullying,”
and “rude” or “hurtful” “text messages” as
cyberbullying.”
Since “creating web sites” that “make fun of others” also is deemed
“cyberbullying,” conservative websites that poke fun at the president are
presumably guilty of cyberbullying under this strange definition. (Law
professors like UCLA’s Eugene Volokh have criticized bills by
liberal lawmakers like Congresswoman Linda
Sanchez
(D-Calif.) that would ban some criticism of politicians as cyberbullying.)

Anti-bullying regulations can backfire and have bad
consequences
for child development. As a school official noted
after passage of New Jersey’s sweeping anti-bullying law, “The anti-bullying
law also may not be appropriate for our youngest students, such as
kindergartners who are just learning how to socialize with their peers.
Previously, name-calling or shoving on the playground could be handled on the spot
as a teachable moment, with the teacher reinforcing the appropriate behavior.
That’s no longer the case. Now it has to be documented, reviewed and resolved
by everyone from the teacher to the anti-bullying specialist, principal,
superintendent and local board of education.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader is a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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