Bill would allow speaking out on homosexuality for religion - WSMV Channel 4

Bill would allow speaking out on homosexuality for religion

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A proposal by some state lawmakers is already under fire, even before the legislative session begins.

They're considering making a change in the law to allow students to speak out against homosexuality, if that's what their religious beliefs call for.

Supporters have said this is about protecting the free-speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality.

But gay rights groups are calling the idea a "license to bully."

Kelly Fussman is the founder of the No Hate Club at Hendersonville High School. She says she sees examples of bullying every single day.

"I've had a lot of friends bullied for just being who they are, whether it's for their sexuality, their gender identity, their religion," she said.

Fussman says she is worried about the bill in the legislature that she believes could make the verbal abuse worse.

The proposal would alter the state's anti-bullying laws to allow students to speak their religious and political views against homosexuality without punishment as long as the student isn't threatening harm or damaging property.

"This kind of legislation can send a message that it's ok to hate and we'll even give you religious sanction for it. You can say what you want. As long as you say it's for religious reasons, you've got backup," said Chris Sanders, with Tennessee Equality Project.

The bill is a top priority for the conservative Family Action Council, which on its website says its intent is to clarify that unpopular beliefs don't constitute bullying.

Gay rights groups say it's a fine line between protecting academic discourse and protective hate.

"What if one student calls another one a sinner, or a sodomite or says you're perverted or you're unnatural or you are going to hell. That's where it gets really dicey," Sanders said.

Students like Fussman say Middle Tennessee has already seen one gay teen commit suicide after he was reportedly bullied at school, and she worries that number could grow if this bill passes.

"That scares me to death. That somebody with so much potential could take their life because of the harassment that they go through every single day, and the school does nothing about it," Fussman said.

The sponsor of the bill says he is going to take a look at the legislation and make sure it does not run counter to the state's anti-bullying laws.

Channel 4 contacted the Family Action Council of Tennessee for comment, and they did not return the calls.

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