Matt Epling was a bright teenager who had a quirky sense of humor. He was creative, talented, intelligent and loved the outdoors. In eighth grade, he was voted to have the best smile, the best personality and most likely to become an actor. On his last day in middle school, he was assaulted by some upperclassmen as a part of high school hazing. Little was done in attempt to find the perpetrators.
Just over a month later, Matt and his parents decided on going to the police to file a formal complaint. But the night before, Matt committed suicide. It could have been because of the threats he received after the incident, or the thought of potential retaliation; we’ll never know.
As a result of this tragedy, the Michigan State Senate has recently passed “Matt’s Safe School Law,” more commonly known as Michigan’s new anti-bullying law. For those unfamiliar, this new law allows harassment from students (as well as teachers) as long as the victim’s actions violate a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” For example, people who truly believe that being gay is wrong are able to bully their classmates consequence-free.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the bill into legislation on Nov. 29, admits he was bullied in school. I find it ironic that he claims he was harassed so terribly for so long, yet he is the one allowing these bullies to manipulate the law validate their behavior.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this process,” Snyder said when he signed the bill. “I was bullied because I was a nerd. I was beaten up in elementary school, I was beaten up in middle school…high school and actually in college for being a nerd and that’s not right.”
You’re correct, Gov. Snyder. It isn’t right. I’m sure Matt Epling would agree.
It infuriates me that he says he’s proud to be a part of a process that allows bullies justification of their actions. It dumbfounds me that Snyder, claiming to be a victim himself, can pass this atrocious excuse of a law.
Matt’s father, Kevin Epling, told the Detroit Free Press that he himself is “ashamed” of this law and called it “government-sanctioned bigotry.” This was meant to provide protection for victims, not the people responsible for making them victims. This revolting piece of legislation isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
Senator Gretchen Whitmer, Minority Leader of the Michigan State Senate, says this new law creates a blueprint for harassment, generates an even more dangerous environment for students by explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying.
“Not only does this not protect kids who are bullied, it further endangers them by legitimizing excuses for tormenting a student,” Whitmer said. “The saddest and sickest irony of this whole thing, is that it’s called Matt’s Safe School Law, and after the way that it’s been gutted, it wouldn’t have done a damn thing to save Matt.”
This law makes me sick to my stomach. Reading Matt’s story touched me personally and broke my heart. As a victim of six years of bullying, I can say that this law is offensive on a new level. It allows harassment of anybody for any reason as long the offender can throw some religious or moral pretext in front of their actions. Bullies in Michigan are now being protected instead of prosecuted. This law does not deserve the name of Matt Epling on it. Matt Epling would not have wanted this.