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Bullying legislation prompts opposition from conservative groups

A new bill in Illinois would require schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, but the Illinois Family Institute and Concerned Christians of America say that the law  would challenge certain students' religious and moral beliefs.

By The Associated Press / May 21, 2012

Illinois Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, is the sponsor of a bill requiring Illinois schools to discourage bullying. The bill will require schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, but it faces opposition from conservative groups including Illinois Family Institute and Concerned Christians of America.

Seth Perlman/AP

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Springfield, Ill.

Some Illinois conservatives fear their children are about to face an assault on their morals and religious beliefs. They worry that state lawmakers will muzzle students who hold unpopular opinions and force them into indoctrination sessions.

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The cause of their worry? Legislation requiring Illinois schools to discourage bullying.

The Illinois Family Institute claims the measure's real goal is "to use public education to promote unproven, non-factual beliefs about the nature and morality of homosexuality and 'transgenderism'." It sees the bills as a beachhead for "homosexual activist organizations" that want to indoctrinate students and teachers.

Despite those broad concerns, the group's position is narrower in negotiations at the state Capitol. Lobbyist Ralph Rivera says the Family Institute will drop its opposition if the legislation makes clear that students can skip events and lessons they find objectionable.

A closer look reveals little in the legislation itself to justify the institute's fears. It would not tell local schools what to say about bullying, let alone anything specific about homosexuality. It would not require schools to hold assemblies or teach lessons about tolerance.

What the bill would do is spell out the steps that must be included in schools' anti-bullying policies. For instance, they would have to make the policy available to students through a website or school handbook. They would have to let students report bullying anonymously and spell out what steps could be taken with a student who has bullied classmates.

At the same time, the institute's request for a specific "opt out" provision is not unprecedented. Illinois laws already let students opt out of sex education and animal dissection if they have moral objections.

Groups supporting the legislation include the Illinois State Board of Education, American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and the gay rights groups Equality Illinois and The Civil Rights Agenda.

Joining the Illinois Family Institute on the other side is the Concerned Christians of America.

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