Michigan GOP Endorses Anti-Semitic Blood Libel

Really!  TIME’s Amy Sullivan notes how Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature agreed to allow anti-bullying legislation only if it contained an exemption for “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”.  (h/t Cohn) It’s obvious where this is coming from: Republicans wanted to empower evangelical bullies to harass gay and lesbian children on campus.  It’s an ugly — and in today’s GOP, typical — bit of conservative ideology.

But let’s think about this a little more.  If the test is “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” then why couldn’t Christian anti-Semites harass Jewish kids for being Christ-killers or for putting Christian blood in matzah?  After all, if the test is whether the bullying comes from a sincere religious conviction, then surely Christian religious anti-Semitism would qualify.  And this anti-Semitism made it perfectly plausible, for those who sincerely believed in it, to think that Jews actually did use the blood of Christian children.  We can even go farther: let’s make sure to protect racists who believe that African-Americans bear the mark of Cain.  It’s a sincerely held religious belief, after all.  (And no: there’s no First Amendment issue.  These laws affect action, not speech, and in any event, relevant Supreme Court precedent allows for greater restrictions on K-12 public school campuses).

The Republican Party appears to have adopted the position that it’s okay to be a bigot if you can say that God told you to do it.  It’s bad enough that so much of history’s ugliness comes from religious bigotry; it’s even worse that one of the nation’s main political parties thinks that that’s just a great idea.

What’s that you say?  That that’s an unfair accusation against the entire GOP?  Fair enough.  How about this: at the next 3,457 Republican presidential debates, why don’t the questioners ask each candidate whether he or she supports the Michigan Republican position.  Why don’t they answer it — again and again?  I’d be particularly interested to see Bishop Romney’s position on the issue.  Make it very clear, Mitt.  Don’t turn down the chance to restore the honor of your party.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

36 thoughts on “Michigan GOP Endorses Anti-Semitic Blood Libel”

  1. does that mean that person A bullying person B because person A has a strong moral conviction that because person B is an American citizen he therefore is an agent of Satan?

    where does such a law interact with laws on Terror?

    surely terrorists have strong moral convictions and certainly some of them might have strong religious beliefs?


    to see the world in “Black and White”
    ah ignorance is bliss
    you’re good or you are evil
    no middle ground in this


  2. You’re a bit behind the times. The Michigan House passed a version without the clause days ago.

    1. I’m glad to hear that. And yes, Zasloff is late to the story; I heard at least a week ago that the Michigan GOP was trying to pass a pro-bullying “anti-bullying” law; it got national attention, and it’s good to hear that the attention achieved the desired result.

      That they reconsidered shouldn’t exempt the Michigan GOP from the opprobrium and interrogation they’ve earned through their initial attempt to give special protection to religiously-excused bullying.

  3. I’d find this all a tad more convincing if you were to post a link to the actual text of the bill, in as much as I have no confidence at all in your desire and/or capacity to accurately relate what the bill does.

    “And no: there’s no First Amendment issue. These laws affect action, not speech”

    Here’s what I found:

    “”Bullying” means any written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication, by a pupil directed at 1 or more other pupils …”

    You know, “verbal acts” are sometimes called “speech”. And the offending language:

    “This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”

    Strange, statements are usually speech, aren’t they?

    IOW, quite contrary to your description, the bill actually did target speech. Which I guess you at least suspected, or else you’d have seen no need to cite a Supreme court case authorizing schools to regulate, yes, speech.

  4. I’m sorry; I’m not a lawyer. To my naive technologist eyes, the opinion cited [i]restricts[/i] a school’s ability to limit free speech.

    But Brett, I looked a little further (thanks for locating the text). Bully is defined as that communication:






    This is no more protected speech than shouting “Fire” in a crowded building. Simply expressing (once) a hostile opinion, including the aforementioned blood libel does not seem to me to count as bullying. On the other hand, doing so repeatedly or in a group would be.

    Of course, I try to follow the rule, “do not attribute to malice what can be explained through incompetence.” My suspicion is that several legislators were afraid that simply expressing an opinion such as “Gays will go to Hell” (not repeatedly) would be taken as bullying. I hope a reasonable person would not interpret it that way, but given a number of school cases that have smacked of hysterical overreaction, I can understand the concern.

    1. I think the phrase “gays will go to hell” is just as much bullying as the phrase “blacks will go to hell.” (I don’t care if it’s said only once) This is bigotry codified in a religious text, pure and simple. One might find it a respectable religious belief. But there are plenty of vile ideas in the bible that few would consider respectable.

  5. And it is no less speech than falsely (Why do they always leave out the “falsely”?) crying fire in a crowded theater.

    Yes, that’s my interpretation, as well. Johnathan, of course, would have had us believe the exemption would have covered beating on somebody.

    1. endorse: v. to support, to back, to give one’s approval to, especially officially or by signature.

      Help me. I couldn’t find such wording in my copy of the Constitution.

      1. Tim —

        I think SamChevre was suggesting that simply because you defend someone’s right to say something doesn’t mean you endorse it. And that is true. But it wholly inapposite to what the Michigan GOP was proposing. As BYomtov notes below, the Michigan GOP’s objections to the bill was not that it violated the First Amendment; it was that it would have prevented anti-gay bullying. And they want to preserve that. The implication of their position is that bullying based upon sincere religious conviction is something to be preserved. If you want to bully a Jewish kid because you think he’s a Christ-killer, or that he puts Christian blood in Pesach matzah, that’s just fine with them.

        1. Just to be clear: You believe that a Christian student’s expression of traditional Christian belief that faith in Jesus as the Christ is required for salvation can be banned as bullying if a non-Christian student suffers emotional distress upon hearing that. Similarly, an Orthodox Jewish student’s claim that homosexual sex is sinful can be banned if a student suffers emotional distress upon hearing that. Jonathan’s suggestion that “bullying” needs to be something other than the expression of a particular viewpoint isn’t supported in the text of the bill. Bullying as defined is nothing more than saying to a Jewish kid that you think he’s a Christ-killer. A horrible sentiment, and an untrue one for that matter, but, until now, one that we’d permitted because the state hasn’t, until now, defined for us the truth or falsity of religious beliefs.

          How about this: We’ll count the expression of traditional religious beliefs as bullying, so long as we can count the opposition to or suppression of traditional religious beliefs as bullying as well. That Orthodox kid who is silenced? I’m sure that’ll cause him emotional distress. We’ll shut down the pubic schools before you know it. Of course you won’t take that trade, and of course you don’t care about the effects on religious believers who don’t agree with you. Bigot is a nice word for that. Asshole as well.

  6. Brett,

    Your speech/action distinction doesn’t work. It’s a complete red herring. It appears the Michigan GOP was perfectly ready to restrict bullying speech that was not based on religious belief. It was providing an exemption for religious-based bullying.

    They had no problem forbidding things like,”You’re a jerk because you’re ugly, and you better stop showing off how good you are in math class.” They were prepared to allow,”You’re going to hell because you’re gay.”

    So no. You can’t cast these a**holes as defenders of the First Amendment. They couldn’t care a rat’s a** less about it. They only wanted to protect religion-based harassment, not student speech in general.

    1. > They had no problem forbidding things like,”You’re a jerk because you’re ugly, and you better stop showing off how good you are in math class.” They were prepared to allow,”You’re going to hell because you’re gay.”

      I’m not sure these are as parallel as you seem to think. To me the bullying part is “you better stop….” since that is a threat. On the other hand, “You’re a jerk because you’re ugly and you show off in math class” is not bullying. But I am very interested in how you know that “they only wanted to protect religion-based harassment, not student speech in general.” Is this mind-reading? Do you have actual evidence rather than simply prejudice against religious people or Republicans?

      1. Do you have actual evidence..

        I’m going on the information in the post, which seems pretty clear.

        To me the bullying part is “you better stop….” since that is a threat. On the other hand, “You’re a jerk because you’re ugly and you show off in math class” is not bullying.

        So is speech that makes no threat ever bullying? If not, then bullying implies threatening speech, at least. Why exempt threats that are religion-based from anti-bullying laws?

        Indeed, whatever you think bullying is or is not, why should it be OK if it based on religious belief? Maybe you could give an example of secular bullying you would disapprove of, with a parallel example of religious bullying that woiuld be OK.

        How about, “I’m going to beat you up unless you stop showing off in math class,” vs. “I’m going to beat you up unless you convert to Christianity?” The latter threat, and much worse, has a long history, and in many cases was based on “sincerely held religious belief.” That’s not prejudice, it’s fact.

        1. Apparently I was not clear. I do not consider bullying or threatening appropriate, no matter how sincerely held the beliefs that lead to it. I believe that bullying necessarily implies threatening behavior, not simply expression of uncomfortable opinions; however, I have also seen cases over overreach by schools, such as the boy suspended for offering a female friend a nonsexual hug. I am guessing that those who pushed for the religious ideas exemption were sure that some people would declare simple expressions of belief (such as “gays are going to Hell”) to be bullying, and were hoping to forestall that.

          1. I’ll allow that about as much as I’ll allow that just as many were simply afraid of the “homosexual agenda” disallowing them to practice bigoted speech. Students are required to attend public schools, and should under no circumstances be forced to endure people telling them they’re going to hell. They can’t leave.

  7. Peak Oil Poet: loved your comment! It’s always good to try to see things through the other person’s eyes.

    This might get me beat up in here for saying this, but I *still* don’t think “religion” is the problem. No, no — as usual, the problem is the individuals involved. We, the humans. People read into the Bible what they want to read there. There is no such thing as a religious war. There are just people working various angles and using God as an excuse.

  8. 1) “endorse: v. to support, to back, to give one’s approval to, especially officially or by signature.

    Help me. I couldn’t find such wording in my copy of the Constitution.”

    Help me, I couldn’t find such wording in the text of the exemption for sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.

    2) Similarly, although the Michigan GOP would have been more willing to restrict speech that is not based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, including that exemption limits the amount of speech that law would seek to prevent. It is defense of free speech by DEGREE.

    3) It is especially defense of freedom of speech by degree to the extent that it would prevented law that could touch on an establishment of religion or have restricted the free exercise thereof.

    4) The specific case cited by Zasloff says the school board probably should not have restricted expression how it did, but acknowledged that there were special rules for restrictions on expression within schools.

    5) As far as anti-bullying laws specifically, I am skeptical because many people have an expansive understanding of what substantial emotional distress actually is. What is said to be unacceptable “gay panic,” (as opposed to the obviously hurtful, stupid, distracting and worthless homophobia of “I hate you because you are gay and therefore will bully you”) as far as I can tell, is (1) I do not like doing gay things, or (2) it is ridiculous to suggest that I am gay. Anti-Semitic bullying also seems to be understood in a broad sense, to the extent that accusations of it are leveled with precisely no basis. I am sure this would be said to be justified on the fact that people who could not be subjected to that discrimination have a “privilege” that prevents their opinions or logic from having any relevance or effect, but this leaves unanswered the question of what is the threshhold when enough members of a group assert their persecution that they become infallible (and yes, that is a deliberate allusion to Catholic doctrine. You may attribute as much or as little irony as you want to that). It seems like an easy tool for Abie Fauxman and his Awfully Dumb Liars (for the record, this is a remark against Foxman and the ADL, not against Jewish people as a religious or cultural group. Does that disclaimer overcome any presumption of anti-Semitism?) to prohibit whatever is outside of a narrow range of politically correct opinions.

    6) I am just being difficult. Bullying, including bullying by verbal acts, is not good in schools. Of course, the challenge is what is actually bullying as opposed to what is an opinion that is outside of the politically correct mainstream that still has value in possibly leading people to truth (especially when they are unconventional statements of fact).

  9. “As far as anti-bullying laws specifically, I am skeptical because many people have an expansive understanding of what substantial emotional distress actually is.”

    And the more we protect people from ever hearing anything they find hurtful, the more common this problem becomes.

    In any event, I note that the post has been edited, without any acknowledgment, to address my complaint about having misrepresented the law.

    1. Untrue Brett: I haven’t edited it. If there are “changes” in the post, then that stems more from your attentiveness than any editing.

      1. Hm, of course, that gets you back to the status quo, of denying that a law which explicitly applies to speech has anything to do with speech. Care to address that?

    2. And the more we protect people from ever hearing anything they find hurtful, the more common this problem becomes.

      And to the extent that we never protect them at all, we end of with people who, several decades later, are still coping with all of the effects of being bullied. For example, I note myself, the weird kid with undiagnosed Asperger’s that was the subject of persistent verbal bullying across three different school systems and four different principals. Very rarely did it rise to the level of physical abuse, though it did occasionally. And yet, I’m still trying to overcome the social scars that it left.

      So, thank you, but I’ll pass on your idea of freedom, red in tooth and claw from the blood of some of us.

      1. My concern here, is that freedom requires thick skin. By punishing speech that offends, we empower the easily offended. We encourage people to be easily offended. Because the more easily offended you are, the more people who believe things you disagree with get silenced. And who doesn’t appreciate a power like that?

        That’s a downward spiral I want us to stop, I’m already getting dizzy. Let’s bring back “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It might not be literally true, but as an ideal to aspire to it sure beats encouraging people to peel their skin off so they can be all bare nerve endings.

        1. It isn’t even vaguely true, and it never has been. Pretending that it is true causes an immense amount of damage. As I said, I deeply resent having been sacrificed on the altar of that particular belief. What you are saying is that you don’t care if I am driven to suicidal depression, because you want to pretend that verbal harassment doesn’t hurt anyone.

          I can perhaps see your point if you want to limit it to adults. However, when applied to eight-year olds and, perhaps worse, fourteen-year olds the costs to others that you are prepared to tolerate are appalling. Contrary to your opinion, being traumatized by it is not simply a matter of looking to be offended.

          1. J, I didn’t state that verbal aggression doesn’t hurt anyone. (Mind, I’ve had my feelings hurt, and I’ve been held down while somebody kicked me in the genitals, and I know which I preferred.) Rather, unlike prohibiting physical attacks, the boundaries of verbal aggression are so nebulous, so dependent on the way the victim reacts, chooses to react, that it’s quite easy to pervert a prohibition on verbal aggression into a regime of censorship.

            In short, contrary to your opinion, being traumatized by verbal aggression sometimes isn’t simply a matter of looking to be offended, but sometimes it is.

            And we don’t want to encourage that.

        2. Brett, ol’ buddy, I agree with you. Not as in “I think you’re totally right and have THE answer,” but as in my commie pinko self thinks you’re making a very good point, one absolutely central to these kinds of conversations. It’s not about embracing a Hobbesian view of “life” or human behavior. It’s not even about assuming a “what doesn’t kill you…” position. Within any socially constructed determination of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (or permissible v. impermissible) there must be space for the chaos, the paradox, the unexpected/ unexplained of experience, or we as a species soon come to enervated flattening of mind, affect, soul, and spirit. Again – key to this is the preemptive acknowledgement that approbation of deliberate, lasting harm to another is not acceptable. Within this, however, we must find allowance for the unpleasant, disagreeable, even hurtful. We are not one dimensional creatures; not even Manichean; with the (ever-so-well-meaning) elision of the dark side of human interaction, we cease to be fully human. My two cents.

          1. Or, as I put it, freedom lives in that space between what you must do, and what you must not do. To be free there must be things we think people should do, but don’t force them to do, things they shouldn’t do, but don’t force them to refrain from. The alternative is the “All that’s not mandatory is forbidden.” dystopia. Which we seem perilously close to drifting into at times.

    1. You’ll hardly catch Brett out that way; he fancies himself a Libertarian, and iirc is an Atheist in any case. He just refuses to condemn his Talivangelical political allies.

      1. You won’t get Brett because he’s pretty resistant to feeling any sort of remorse or empathy. Someone upthread, a brave someone, tried to explain what it feels to be relentlessly bullied for his disability, especially as a child, and Brett’s reaction is “man up and grow a thicker skin.”

        Kind of ironic, having a reaction like that on a bullying thread, huh?

  10. I was bullied constantly in elementary school, and it was a miserable experience. Did you read (or see) About a Boy, where Will shouts at Marion that Marcus is being taken to pieces every single f*cking day of the week? Like that.

    Only a couple of the kids who were bullying me said that, because I was Jewish, I would go to hell. But I’m sure that if this law had been in place in my state, that’s what they all would have been saying (possibly except for the ones who were Jewish), because that’s what the state would have told them they could officially have gotten away with.

    The description of the Michigan Senate bill as a blueprint for bullying was accurate. It’s good that the provision was removed from the bill, after a flood of stories illustrated with pictures of sad children, but the people who pushed for this provision because they support bullying of children they don’t approve of should be ashamed.

    (By the way, my bullying was supported by school officials; when I went crying to the school lunch lady after getting punched in the face by kids who were a year older than me, she told me to stop being a big baby. This is part of the reason these laws are necessary. You can’t count on adults to do the right thing unless you make a big deal of it.)

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