NEW YORK STATE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE
465 State Street Albany, NY 12203-1004
Phone (518) 434-6195
Fax (518) 434-9796
The New York State Catholic Conference strongly supports legislative efforts to combat the problem of bullying in public schools. The Catholic schools in our state have worked diligently in recent years to put in place anti-bullying policies and have long taught the Judeo-Christian values of tolerance and respect for the dignity of all students.
The same standard we have incorporated in Catholic schools applies as well to children of all faiths or no faith in our public schools. Every human being and every child has inherent dignity and should be treated by others with respect for that dignity and respect for his/her participation in school and in other activities appropriate for children and young people.
A school must be a safe haven for children to learn and grow to reach their full potential, free from intimidation, fear or abuse of any kind. In recent years, the growing problem of school bullying has received increased attention in the media, from school teachers and administrators, state lawmakers, and from parents. While this issue has been with us as long as there have been schools, society has slowly come to the realization that acceptance of bullying for any reason creates a poisonous atmosphere and can result in physical violence, lasting harm, and the silent suffering of untold numbers of children, their childhoods ruined, their psyches shattered. Increasingly bullying is occurring over the Internet through social networking sites outside the view of teachers and parents, making the challenge all the greater.
While the reasons why children bully other children are not always clear, what is clear is that any child is potentially at risk. Therefore, children need to be protected from bullying whatever the source and whatever the form it takes. This should not be tied to any particular group or any particular “bullying” action. We must say very clearly that “Bullying any child for any reason is not permitted.”
Therefore anti-bullying legislation that identifies specific protected groups is discriminatory in itself and makes it possible for some bullying to be acceptable while bullying of certain groups is out of bounds. There is one bill before the state legislature that is flawed for that very reason.
It creates "protected groups” and is silent on other forms of bullying. We cannot support such legislation. Bullying occurs not just against groups, but against individuals who fit no particular profile. We cannot deal with bullying in the same way we deal with workplace harassment or discrimination in housing. The psychology of childhood bullying goes beyond simple bigotry.
Respect for the innate dignity of every human person made in the image and likeness of God is the central tenet of Catholic social teaching, and pervades our Catholic school classrooms at every level. The same standard belongs in every school, public or private, in our state. We join the Legislature in seeking an end to the serious problem of bullying, and stand ready to offer the expertise of our school administrators in crafting a comprehensive solution.
We are grateful to members in both parties who have raised this issue with their well-intentioned legislation.
RICHARD E. BARNES
Archdiocese of New York • Dioceses of Albany / Brooklyn / Buffalo / Ogdensburg / Rochester / Rockville Centre / Syracuse