Bullying is an everpresent issue that faces American kids. But recently, a spate of anti-bullying fever has swept through the nation’s legislators. In New Jersey, Missouri, Michigan, California and other states, legislatures are enacting harsh anti-bullying laws in hopes of curbing the effect on public schoolkids.
Now, the D.C. city council is considering a very restrictive law that would create “anti-bullying zones” in the city’s public schools. Measures like this are often described as “well-intentioned” and paired with a sympathetic anecdote about how someone has been profoundly affected by bullying. As conservatives, though, we know that good intentions don’t make good law. Wendy Kaminer recently laid out the First Amendment issues with many of these new laws, and D.C.’s in particular.
The flagrant abuses of this bill threaten civil society much more than the abuse it apparently intends to prevent — bullying (anti-gay bullying, in particular). In addition to policing the everyday speech of anyone who frequents a public park or library, the bill creates a system of informants within specific agencies.
[T]he unconstitutionality of the D.C. bill is clear. While in K through 12 public schools, administrators enjoy considerable power to restrict “disruptive” student speech, administrators in public colleges and universities are obliged to respect First Amendment rights. So are elected officials, who have no power to prohibit citizens from allegedly demeaning, insulting, or otherwise offending each other.
Bullying is often disruptive to a youth, and no one wants to see their children subjected to this. However, the pendulum has clearly swung too far in the other direction – not all bullying is preventable, and it’s not worth the infringements of freedom of speech.