Massive Anti-Bullying Law and Bullying Initiatives Were Based on Misleading Publicity

by Hans Bader on February 9, 2012 · 2 comments

in Legal, Personal Liberty, Politics as Usual, Sanctimony, Zeitgeist

“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 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.”

Izzy Kalman February 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm

What a breath of fresh air! It is so rare to see anyone writing common sense about the bullying issue.

I have been warning for over a decade that laws cannot get rid of bullying and that these law can only cause more harm than good. These laws would be more accurately called “forced sainthood laws,” for they require children to never do or say anything that could possibly hurt anyone’s feelings. No law can turn people into saints.

Over the years I have written dozens of articles explaining what is wrong with the anti-bully movement, the most popular social movement in the history of the world. For more info, please visit or my Psychology Today blog, A Psychological Solution to Bullying:

John David Galt February 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Laws like the one described *are* ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean that the law should allow actual bullying to go on. Even children have a right to either be protected by the law or to arm and protect themselves; it is not acceptable for any authority ever to tell them they just have to put up with it, especially when the law creates the problem in the first place by forcing them to go where the bad guys are waiting for them.

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