January 18, 2012
On behalf of Interfaith Alliance’s more than 185,000 members nationwide, I write to ask your support for and co-sponsorship of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S. 555). Interfaith Alliance’s support for SNDA and similar legislation is rooted in our commitment to religious freedom, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and protecting against the abuse of religion as a justification for violence, malice, or discrimination.
As someone who has been a member of clergy and a student of religion for most of my life, bullying for any reason is contradictory to authentic religion. Religion inspires respect, empathy, compassion and humility—values that prompt healing and condemn hurting. Too often, we have seen those who condemn homosexuality because of religion-based beliefs claim that their religious freedom should trump anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws. But nothing should trump the safety and well-being of our children.
Personally, over the past 12 months, as a pastor, I have listened to three parents and an aunt who functioned as a parent pour out their grief over the death of a child in their respective families prompted by relentless, life-sapping bullying perpetrated by school mates. One was too many. But, four! As a nation that values children, freedom, security, minorities, and the rule of law, we have to do something to improve the situation.
According to recent studies, bullying affects almost 30% of American children on a monthly basis and results in serious academic, physical and mental health problems including, in some cases, suicide. While some schools, districts and states have already enacted anti-bullying and harassment policies, most have not. Additionally, in many cases school policies on preventing bullying and discrimination are not spelled out resulting in existing policies going unenforced, school officials unsure of what they can do, and children continuing to get hurt.
This important legislation would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination, including harassment, in public schools based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, providing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students with much needed protections. The legislation also protects those who associate with LGBT people including students with LGBT parents and friends.
This legislation is consistent with nearly fifty years of civil rights history, which clearly demonstrate that laws similar to SNDA are effective in preventing discrimination, including harassment from occurring. Though federal laws currently protect our children from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, no federal laws explicitly protect students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It is time to pass SNDA to fill this gap in civil rights protections. A vibrant democracy guarantees the protection of civil rights for everyone with no exception made because of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
No children should be discriminated against, bullied, harassed and feel unsafe in a place where they are not only required to be, but a place that should be a safe haven for them to learn and grow. Those who would waive the banner of religious freedom as an excuse to demean and hurt others forget that in a democracy, we must be willing to allow people to be different without condemning them religiously or denying their rights politically. This is even more so when we are dealing with the safety and wellbeing of our children—the future of our democracy. The Student Non-Discrimination Act is a step in the right direction.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.