- Last Updated on 02 August 2012
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That mouthful of legislative gobbledygook alone should doom it to defeat.
However, its content — or rather, what it doesn’t say — raises First Amendment issues that should compel lawmakers to vote no.
Bullying in schools and over the Internet has grown in the public’s consciousness in recent years, and for good reason. Bullying can be traumatic for the victims, and some of it can go beyond “sticks and stones” schoolyard taunts and insults into violent threats and prolonged harassment that emotionally scar kids — and drive some to commit suicide.
Physical threats and assaults should be dealt with harshly. But the danger is that an overzealous movement to retard bullying will stray too far into criminalizing speech. Some efforts recall the “speech codes” many colleges implemented in the 1980s and ‘90s that meted out harsh penalties for politically incorrect opinions, and effectively chilled free speech.
The House’s bullying bill provides grants for “research-based bullying prevention, cyber bullying prevention, and gang prevention programs, as well as intervention programs regarding bullying.” However, it is quite vague on exactly what “bullying” means.
The stopbullying.gov website of the Department of Health and Human Services defines it as “teasing,” “name-calling,” “taunting,” “leaving someone out on purpose,” “telling other children not to be friends with someone,” “spreading rumors about someone,” “hitting/kicking/pinching,” “spitting” and “making mean or rude hand gestures.”
All deserve some form of sanction, but not all deserve to be treated the same. Certainly teasing, while rude, is less aggrieving than hitting or kicking someone. States that have passed or are considering adopting anti-bullying laws have their own definitions.
A research paper by Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky and Andrea Pinzon Garcia of the University of Florida released earlier this month examines legislative efforts to curb bullying. They write:
“… [R]eflexive criminalization of common childhood wrongdoing, especially when committed through speech, leads to pernicious consequences. Criminal laws that zealously target cyberbullying risk overcriminalizing by creating new crimes that overlap with existing ones.”
Furthermore, the authors conclude that “the critical constitutional flaw in much of this new criminal legislation is that it is too ambitious: in its attempt to eliminate cyberbullying, it conflates the definition of cyberbullying as a social problem with the legal definition of cyberbullying as a crime, violating prohibitions against vagueness and overbreadth in the process.”
You need not pass a law to express disapproval of certain conduct. It must start at the ground level, with teachers, school administrators and parents addressing bullying, as Lidsky and Garcia write, “through educating, socializing and stigmatizing perpetrators,” distinguishing them from those rarer examples than can be censored and criminalized, such as threats of bodily harm, stalking, etc.
Finally, this is not a federal issue. It is a state and local concern. Raise consciousness of the problem in communities; don’t throw money at it from Washington.
Source Website: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/google/bully/~3/J5A886pw9II/url