MPAC Leads Growing National Consensus on Anti-Bullying Campaign

Last week, the Muslim Public Affairs Council joined the First Amendment Center at the Newseum, the National School Boards Association and 16 other organizations at a press conference to release “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools.”

Speakers at the press conference at the National Press Club included Marc Stern from the American Jewish Committee, Charles Haynes of the Religious Freedom Education Project, Francisco Negron from the National School Boards Association, Kim Colby of the Christian Legal Society, and Hoda Elshishtawy, MPAC’s Legislative and Policy Analyst.

According to an MPAC press release , the goal of the guidelines, which will be distributed to school districts around the country, is to “help public schools balance the need for school safety with the need for free expression.” According to the guidelines, students should be able to attend public schools where they are free to share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences in a safe school environment that prohibits discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Some students are targeted and singled out for bullying and harassment as a result of scapegoating from skewed debates on race, immigration or even national security spilling over into the schools.“Of course, students are free, and in fact encouraged to have their own opinions on issues impacting their lives; but teachers and administrators must ensure and be responsible to create safe spaces to permit students to explore these issues while being aware they are in an honest, safe and open environment that allows all students to thrive,” Elshishtawy stressed during the press conference.

While students’ right to free speech must be upheld, we understand the important role teachers and administrators play in educating our students as well as making them feel comfortable and creating an environment of openness and inclusion. At times harassment and bullying clash with free speech -- whether an American Muslim student is bullied as a trickle-down effect of Islamophobia, or a gay student is harassed because of their sexuality or a Sikh American student is targeted because of perceived religious affiliations with Islam.

As a faith-based organization, MPAC is proud to endorse the guidelines, which encourage school leaders to address head on the difficult realities students are facing today. Having these conversations helps build resilient communities and allows for our students to understand the importance of free speech while recognizing the destructive power words can have when wielded as weapons for bullying. The value of free speech in a democratic society is a treasure and public schools can be an example of institutions where constitutional rights are upheld and cherished while individual dignity and safety are simultaneously respected and protected, concluded the MPAC press release.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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