The suicide of a New Jersey college student whose intimate encounter with another man was broadcast on the Internet by two other students has cast a spotlight on the problem of bullying and its often brutal consequences. Religious groups condemn hateful behavior like bullying but can differ on the solutions.
On the one hand, religious identity is sometimes cited as a factor by bullies who pick on children from faith traditions that are different from the majority.
On the other hand, the homosexuality or the perceived homosexuality of victims is a common reason that children or young adults are bullied.
Some religious leaders and experts warn that religious rhetoric against homosexuality can feed anti-gay bullying, while others caution that including sexual orientation in laws against bullying could open the door to anti-discrimination statutes that would impinge religious freedom or advance gay rights that some religious groups oppose.
This edition of ReligionLink provides resources for covering this story.
- The death of the Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, was one of several suicides in the space of a month chalked up to anti-gay bullying. Minnesota Public Radio also reported that seven teenagers in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts killed themselves during the previous year and that bullying or cyberbullying may have played a part in the deaths.
- A campaign called Claim Your Rights was launched in September by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, commonly called PFLAG, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN (pronounced glisten). The campaign encourages LGBT students and allies to report incidents of bullying or harassment to the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education.
- In August, the federal government held what was billed as the first-ever bullying prevention summit. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called bullying a moral issue as well as a threat to students’ education and safety.
- Focus on the Family recently launched True Tolerance, which aims to give Christians resources for responding to “homosexual advocacy” in schools. See the site’s talking points about bullying and a report titled “The Problem With Politicized Bully Policies.”
Resources and background
- ReligionLink has published a number of editions dealing with homosexuality. In particular, see the Feb. 19, 2007, edition, “Public schools wrestle with sexual orientation issues.”
- The Internet has been blamed by some for the rise of “cyberbullying” and other forms of harassment against young people. ReligionLink’s recent edition on social networking has a number of experts who can address issues related to web-based interactions.
- Nearly a third of students in the sixth to 10th grades said in 2008 that they had either bullied students or been bullied, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and after physical appearance, homosexuality is considered the prime factor in bullying.
- Forty-five states have anti-bullying laws, according to Bully Police USA, a watchdog organization composed of parents.
- BullyingNoWay.com is an Australian website that has resources on combating bullying.
- The Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a “Stop Bullying Now!” campaign.
Articles, blog posts, other media
- Read an Oct. 4, 2010 column by the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, R. Albert Mohler, “Between the Boy and the Bridge — A Haunting Question,” in which Mohler reiterates support for the Christian position against gay rights but strongly questions the harsh approach of many Christians to gay people.
- Read an Oct. 1, 2010, entry on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog suggesting that an anti-gay climate in society creates bullies and is fueled by church policies that call homosexuality incompatible with Christian values. It’s written by the Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the network, which mobilizes United Methodists to transform their church and the world “into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.”
- See Ellen DeGeneres’ Sept. 30, 2010, response to Tyler Clementi’s suicide.
- Pamela Taylor, a Muslim columnist for The Washington Post’s On Faith blog, discusses the recent suicides and bullying in this Sept. 30, 2010, post.
- This Sept. 29, 2010, article in The Christian Science Monitor includes information about the recent spike in youth suicides linked to bullying.
- Read a Sept. 29, 2010, column at Religion Dispatches, “Bullies Flourishing with Christian Support,” by Candace Chellew-Hodge, founder and editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Chellew-Hodge criticizes a campaign by Focus on the Family against anti-bullying legislation.
- Read a Sept. 8, 2010, Huffington Post column by U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, criticizing Focus on the Family for opposing a bill he introduced that would combat bullying.
- Read an Aug. 29, 2010, Denver Post article about Focus on the Family’s objection to anti-bullying programs that it says promote homosexuality and portray conservative Christians as bigoted.
- See an April 16, 2010, article on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s site about some Christians’ concerns that efforts to highlight harassment of LGBT students, such as the “Day of Silence” observed at some schools, are essentially attempts to promote gay rights.
- A Nov. 17, 2008, report from the Britain-based website Ekklesia notes that one in four young people from across all religions have been bullied because of their religious beliefs.