January 16, 2013
The Law as the Bully’s Pulpit
Bullies have been around for a long time. Those famous who have a bearing on this posting include Henry VIII. I mention Henry because the tactics he employed with the law have clear parallels with the matter about which I shall discuss today. Sadly, tyrants—bullies—like Henry don’t seem to disappear. The bully can be the thug who wants everything for himself; the bully can be one’s co-worker, the executive, fellow student, or even the professor who insists on things being done his or her way. Sometimes the bully can be the public official who wants policies or laws to reflect a particular constituency’s interests. The bully can also be the lobbyist-advocate who wants more than that to which he or she is entitled by objective reason, equity, and justice. In many contexts, what makes a person the bully is the belief that the only thing which matters is what the bully thinks is right whether or not it is right.
In this context, I recently read with great interest Professor Donn Short’s SSRN manuscript entitled “Queering Schools, GSA [gay-straight alliances] and the Law: Taking on God.” [manuscript is available at SSRN and is here: Download Short's Taking on God] Professor Short is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba. Like many of us here at the Mirror of Justice, Professor Short is a teacher of the law; moreover, he is against bullying—or at least a certain kind. Nothing wrong with that initially, but as I continued to read his SSRN manuscript, I wondered if this advocate against bullying might be the model of a new kind of bullying which he finds not only acceptable but necessary.
The central theme of his essay to which I refer appears to be a critique of claims for religion-based exceptions to state-and-law mandated curricula for all schools. These curricula would combat “unjustifiable curtailment of citizenship for queer people and would undermine the equality gains that have been made by this group.” Throughout this essay, Professor Short addresses equality, bullying, pressure on “queer” students to conform to “hetero-normativity”; moreover, in his presentation he contends that the “arguments against equality claims for queers are pretty much exclusively and overtly religious in nature.” However, he does not cite the evidence upon which he bases this claim. In addition, Professor Short does not define what he means by “equality” nor does he acknowledge that many counterpoint arguments made by religious and non-religious people alike who disagree with his perspectives are not “overtly religious in nature.”
At this site, I have argued the importance of equality on many important and fundamental fronts, but I have also pointed out that people are not equal in many ways (hence the basis of human diversity and pluralism about which we hear so much)—and one of those ways treads upon the subject matter of Professor Short’s essay, human sexuality.
To cut to the chase, Professor Short advances the position that the law is to be harnessed in order to control the “transformative possibilities” of education and in order to establish the “comprehensive queering of schools.” While he uses the existence of bullying students who claim to be “sexual minorities” as the pretext, his real ambition is to ensure that there is no exception to his plan for a uniform education that embraces the model of human sexuality which he champions. The purpose of his essay is to target the Catholic Church and the schools which she supports and directs and to make the Church and her institutions bow to positions that are antithetical to the faith.
Furthermore, Professor Short asserts that there is a “mistaken belief” amongst “religionists”—especially Catholic institutions—that Church institutions can “ ‘run their own show’ ”. He is lucid in his condemnation of Church institutions which do not reflect and embrace his views when he asserts that “religious dogma in some way justifies ignoring or indeed allowing the continue the harassment of queer students within the Roman Catholic school system.” After identifying what he considers to be the enemy of society, he offers a solution to this offensive predicament, and it is the law—or more specifically, its commandeering by the interests that he holds dear but which conflict with the objectively reasoned views of many of his fellow citizens. By retooling the law according to this author, the ability of the Church to decide matters that transcend the state’s legitimate interest of ensuring that all educational institutions provide a sound, fundamental education can be reined in. He is clear about his plan for state commandeering of all education by retooling the law when he discusses “the need for well-articulated ministerial intervention.”
But is this not bullying by another name all for the cause of achieving “social justice for queer youth” at the expense of religious freedom—a freedom that is textually protected by the law?
While he insists that his plan is to demonstrate “the need to consider the law’s potential from a pluralist perspective,” it is clear that Professor Short is interested in neither pluralism nor diversity in education but tyrannical uniformity.
He is also not interested in “inclusive education” as he states in his conclusion; rather, he insists upon “anti-oppressive education” that will assure the “cultural transformation” upon which he insists but is prevented by the existence of Catholic education in Canada. It is clear that his objective is to target institutions which do not reflect his view of human nature; moreover, he contends that his proposal will rid the world, or at least Canada, of the sort of bullying that targets “queer” students. As he asserts, “It is clear that the culture of schools must be transformed.” This goal will be reached by altering the curriculum of every school “to include queer content and to recognize queer families.” However, he knows that his proposal requires the cooperation of the state and its juridical institutions which possess the muscularity to close any institution, especially the Catholic ones he has targeted, which fail to be transformed in his image. But this is bullying, pure and simple.
Here I again rely on the warning of Christopher Dawson that I have used several times before, but it seems all the more necessary to recall Dawson’s prophecy pertaining to things like Professor Short’s vision of transformative education. As Dawson said about sixty years ago,
[I]f Christians cannot assert their right to exist in the sphere of higher education, they will eventually be pushed not only out of modern culture but out of physical existence. That is already the issue in Communist countries, and it will also become the issue in England and America if we do not use our opportunities while we still have them.
Although Dawson was speaking about higher education, his point is applicable to primary and secondary education as well be it in England, the United States, Canada, or elsewhere. The bully is once again on the school yard, but this time his target is those whom he considers as bullies but are not.
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