The New Jersey Legislature passed the so-called Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights on Monday, which, if signed by Gov. Christie, will toughen rules for how public schools deal with bullying.
We are at once proud, encouraged, and dismayed.
We are proud of our legislators who saw the need for the legislation, which includes the creation of a week of respect, grading each school on bullying protocols, and creating better mechanisms for school authorities to report bullying incidents. And we are proud of them for taking the steps to help our children feel safer in their schools.
We are proud of the Anti-Defamation League and Garden State Equality for the work they did in lobbying for this bill, including arranging for moving testimony from victims of bullying.
We are encouraged that this will be a step forward for New Jersey so that every child, no matter his or her race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, can get an education in an environment free of intimidation and harassment.
We are encouraged that the bill recommends that the state’s private schools, including the Jewish day schools, adopt similar rules.
We are, however, dismayed that a group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders fought against this bill because it mandates discussions in the public schools about homosexuality and gender identity. While this group praised other measures in the bill and said such policies are already in place in day schools, we are extremely dismayed that these religious leaders – spurred by rabbis who reportedly convinced Sen. Robert Singer of Ocean County to change his vote – have decided to pretend the LGBT community does not exist.
And lastly, we are dismayed that such a bill is necessary in the first place.
We in the Jewish community know what it is like to be outsiders, to be shunned by the larger community and subjected to discrimination. We have suffered for thousands of years because of irrational anti-Semitism. But we as a people have survived. And we have a responsibility to teach our children to be better than those who tormented us. We have a responsibility to protect all children from bullying.
Recognizing and respecting the humanity of others is not only a moral ideal, it’s a Jewish ideal.