“The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech," U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said.
The ruling stems from a 2009 law passed by Congress that required the FDA to enforce new warning requirements, which included manufacturers placing color labels on their products which covered at least half of the packaging space, as well as on 20 percent of print advertisements for cigarettes.
Last summer, the FDA unveiled nine warning labels – among them, photographs of charred lungs and corpses – that were expected to be placed on all cigarette packages in the United States by September 2012. Last year, Judge Leon allowed a preliminary injunction which prevented the mandatory warnings from being placed on tobacco products, a decision challenged by the Obama administration and currently awaiting a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, slammed this week’s decision, stating that the ruling “ignores decades of First Amendment precedent that support the right of the government to require strong warning labels to protect the public health.”
The United States Department of Health & Human Services was also critical of the ruling, announcing that the organization would “do everything we can to warn young people about the dangers of smoking” in a recent press release.
“This public health initiative will be an effective tool in our efforts to stop teenagers from starting in the first place and taking up this deadly habit,” the HHS release read. “We are confident that efforts to stop these important warnings from going forward will ultimately fail”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that almost 45 million adults smoke cigarettes in the United States, which the CDC also lists as the leading cause of preventable death in the nation.
According to the most recent CDC data, approximately 4,000 children smoke their first cigarette every day in America, with a quarter of them eventually becoming daily users.
A recent bill passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives could have unforeseen consequences for the state’s youth, according to one juvenile justice judge – particularly the notion that the proposed legislation would inadvertently make teenage kissing a reportable offense.
House Bill 16, the Ryan Petit Child Protection and Child Rape Protection Act of 2012, is currently undergoing review by a state Senate Judiciary committee. Meanwhile, Natchez Judge John Hudson says the bill is too far-reaching, with definitions that would require certain professionals to report teenage kissing as acts of “sexual abuse.”
The bill, Hudson noted, would require community members deemed as “mandatory reporters” of sexual abuse – teachers, police officers, health care providers, clergy members and film developers – to contact authorities upon observing or suspecting sexual abuse. The problem, Hudson identified, was with what he considered a vague description of what “sexual abuse” entails within the bill.
Under the bill’s current language, “sexual abuse” is defined as “the involvement of the child in any sexual act with a parent or another person, or the aiding or intentional toleration of a parent or caretaker of the child’s sexual involvement with any other person.” Additionally, the bill defines “children” as minors 16 and younger, meaning that certain adults witnessing junior high school students kissing would be legally required to report the incident to local police.
Although Judge Hudson said he believed the bill was designed with good intentions, he urged lawmakers to significantly rephrase the measure during its ongoing judiciary review.
“Saying ‘any other person’ includes other 16-year-olds,” Hudson stated. “It’s too broad.”
Photo: flickr, Alaspoorwho
NEW YORK -- Getting shot was probably a critical turning point in Ray Tebout’s life, he says. It was 1990. Tebout had just turned 16 and was living on the streets of the South Bronx, selling drugs and doing his best to survive. And then some guy had to go and shoot him in the foot.
The day of the shooting Tebout was on the corner selling drugs when “a guy wanted something from me,” he said. “I gave it to him but he decided he wanted something from someone else.” The man got angry and walked away but then — suddenly — he turned around and shot Tebout.
“Getting shot in the foot may not sound like much,” he said, “but it’s pretty horrible.”
Homeless, with his foot in a cast and walking on crutches, Tebout was mostly immobile, at least by the standards of drug dealers in the South Bronx.
“Losing your mobility in such a predatory environment was tough,” he said. You can’t sell drugs, he added, because you can’t run from the cops or the thugs.
He may not have been able to walk, but this was still the first step toward turning his life around. But it was only the first, very tiny step and it would be years, spent in and out of prison, before his life would be truly stable; before he stopped burglarizing stores because he was starving, homeless and desperate.
In early February, Tebout sat on a panel discussing prisoner reentry during the second day of the John Jay College/Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America held here. His words held an added resonance as he was the only speaker on the panel to have actually been to prison. But now Tebout stands on the other side of the wall, counseling former inmates like himself and proving that a prison sentence doesn't preclude you from becoming a leader in your community. Tebout is now director of counseling at College Initiative, a reentry community organization in New York City that helps the formerly incarcerated transition into college.
Tebout was born in Manhattan in 1974 but spent his youth travelling the country with his family, finally landing in the Bronx when he was 12. All those years of travel isolated him from other kids, leaving him with very limited social skills.
“I was a misfit there,” Tebout said. “I was decently educated, but not socially educated. I read well but I had zero social skills.”
Suddenly he was an awkward suburban kid dropped into a “hostile urban environment.” It wasn’t long before he was committing petty burglaries and selling drugs.
“My first criminal activity was to fit in,” he said. “It gave me something to bond over with folks. When you are interested in engaging in criminal activity you find the people involved in criminal activity.”
It was an important step in the wrong direction, but Tebout says, “It took me out of the position of least powerful in my social group.” And eventually, he says, his petty crimes became more violent.
Tebout’s father had sent him to a number of good schools, but he struggled with authority and got kicked out of them all. “That didn’t work out,” Tebout said simply. Frustrated and facing his own troubles with addiction, Tebout’s father kicked him out. He was 16.
Tebout lived on the streets of the Bronx for 10 months, selling drugs to survive. But he soon realized there was an easier way, he said, and he started looking for people to rob.
“It was a lot easier to rob people than it was to stand on a street corner and sell drugs,” he said.
But then he was shot, left defenseless in a dangerous place and was soon arrested for burglary.
“I was hungry, it was cold and I needed something to eat so I burglarized a store with a couple of guys,” Tebout said. “They got away and I didn’t.”
Tebout was soon back on the streets, his case dismissed and sealed.
When he was 18, in 1992, everything fell apart once and for all when a late-night robbery went sideways. Tebout wanted to make some money. His sister was struggling and he wanted to help her out.
“I was already robbing people,” he said, “so I decided to go out and look for somebody and at the end of the night in a quiet subway station I found a guy.”
Tebout's target pulled a gun on Tebout and tried to shoot him but he managed to wrestle the gun away from the man. Then Tebout pistol-whipped him.
Tebout says he still feels remorse for the attack.
“That was probably one of the worst things I have ever done,” he said. “I think about what that man must have gone through and it’s horrifying. I feel really terrible about it.” Having been attacked himself, Tebout said, he knows the pain the man must have gone through.
He was convicted and sent to prison for 11 years. His time there, Tebout says, was horrible.
“I think I only slept, ate and fought for the first year,” he said. Soon he got involved with gangs on the inside. Tebout is a big guy, tall with a shaved head, and intimidating, but everyone can use protection.
“In some ways [gang members] were essential to helping me out with my time,” he said.
But his first seven years in prison weren’t moving him any closer to rehabilitation. Tebout was actually adding more time to his sentence.
“As I stayed in prison my time got increasingly violent,” he said. “I got an additional one and a half years. It was escalating and escalating.”
Tebout appeared lost, a young man who only knew violence and crime. But his grandmother, like so many grandmothers, knew her grandson better. She wrote Tebout in prison and asked him simply to be a good citizen. He listened.
However, his rehabilitation wasn’t overnight. His criminal behavior faded away slowly, partly out of necessity.
“For gangs that means your defenses are down,” he said. “You are vulnerable and I had to be careful.”
He didn’t stop getting in trouble, he says, but he was more thoughtful and stopped being reckless.
But one day, he says, he prayed and then he was done.
“I’m out,” he says he thought at the time. “I’m not going to put my hands on anybody. I’m going to go out and be a good citizen.”
His good behavior didn’t go unnoticed by prison administrators and they offered him spots in rehabilitation programs telling him his participation could lead to an early release.
Tebout went along with it, mostly because he wanted to get out of prison faster, he says, but eventually he saw they were helping.
“The value of those programs to me,” Tebout said, “was that it started me thinking differently.”
One program defined criminal thinking as the lazy, easy way out and helped Tebout identify the steps to stop him thinking like a criminal.
“I needed to start pursuing the longer, harder road,” he said.
And he did, becoming part of the 33 percent of ex-offenders who do not recidivate according to an offender reentry report for Congress.
Speaking on the same panel as Tebout at the February symposium at John Jay College, attorney Margaret Love described some of the difficulties many former inmates face.
"There are more and more laws that exclude people with convictions from a variety of benefits," she said. "There are upwards of 35,000 laws."
Even harder to deal with is the social stigma, she says.
"Most people who are convicted are not a public safety threat," she said. "But the pervasive backgrounding and the fear that has overcome us since 9/11 has made it very easy to exclude people who have characteristics we fear."
Tebout was released from prison when he was 29. He has $170 in his pocket and the support of some positive friends. Tebout is still proud that he didn’t land in a homeless shelter upon release and instead stayed with an old friend from high school.
He started working in restaurants and used the money he earned to put himself through culinary school. He cooked professionally for two years but he said, “I realized I was doing more counseling in the kitchen than cooking.” So he switched gears and moved into human services.
He continued to work hard, earning credentials in substance abuse counseling and entrepreneurship teaching all while working as a counselor at the Fortune Society, a social service and advocacy group that supports successful reentry into society after prison. He later joined College Initiative and enrolled in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where he is pursuing a bachelor's degree.
His work has done more than just keep him out of prison, it’s given him a purpose.
“No one was addressing the needs of those being released from prison,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”
According to the Reentry Policy Council, many communities have few, if any, reentry assistance programs. Through his counseling work, Tebout is working to change that.
Tebout brings a lot of personal experience to his counseling work and says he knows how to approach teenagers in danger of travelling the same path to prison that he did. It’s all about choices and Tebout can’t make decisions for them.
“I’m not here to tell you what to do,” he tells his mentees, “but here are your options.”
It's already a crime to provide weapons, drugs or alcoholic beverages to youths in the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. Senate Bill 366, sponsored by Sen. Johnny Grant (R-Milledgeville), expands that ban to other items that have turned up in quantity recently as investigators made surprise visits to each of the state's 26 youth detention centers.
Authorities showed off a large box of confiscated cellphones next to tobacco products, handmade weapons and other contraband at the most recent meeting of the board of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. Also on display was what appeared to be a youth's handwritten business plan calculating the sums of money that could be made selling cigarettes and amphetamines to other offenders.
"Cellphones are a major threat to security," DJJ spokesman Jim Shuler said. In addition to their value as barter between offenders, cellphones can be used to help smuggle contraband into a youth detention center or to plan escapes, he said.
Under the bill, which still must pass the House of Representatives, violators could be sentenced to up to four years in prison upon conviction.
Tuesday, Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman presented several proposals to the state Legislature during his annual State of the Judiciary address, including the creation of a new juvenile court to handle cases involving 16-and17-year-olds tried for nonviolent offenses.
Currently, New York is one of only two states in the nation, along with North Carolina, that automatically tries 16-and 17-year-old offenders as adults. According to Judge Lippman, the state’s legislation, “flies in the face of what science tells us about adolescent development.”
Judge Lippman’s proposal would allow judges in adult-offender courts to serve as Family Court judges in cases involving nonviolent 16-and 17-year-olds offenders. Juveniles found guilty in such instances would be subject to Family Court judgments, which generally mete out less harsh adjudications, frequently substituting treatment services for incarceration. Additionally, cases under the arrangement would be sealed, and defendants would not incur a criminal record pending a guilty verdict.
He noted that each year almost 50,000, 16-and 17-year-olds in the state are prosecuted in criminal court, although an overwhelming majority of them are charged with nonviolent offenses
“The goal is to intervene with those kids early, and steer them away,” Judge Lippman said during his address at Albany’s Court of Appeals chamber.
During the address, Judge Lippman also proposed several measures intended to curb wrongful convictions within the state, including videotaped interrogations and greater access to DNA testing for defendants.
“There could be nothing more horrible than an innocent person being convicted of a crime while the perpetrator is free to commit more crimes,” he noted during the assembly. “This is a grand opportunity to put together legislation that really directly impacts what I do believe is a stain on the justice system.”
Sitting behind her strikingly barren desk, with the bright, mid-winter sunlight breaking through the trees and streaming through her office windows, Martha Grace Duncan, a professor at the Emory University School of Law, in Atlanta recounts the case of nine-year-old Cameron Kocher. As she speaks her small, compact frame remains nearly motionless, betraying no emotion. But her eyes tell the story, portraying the internal mix-up of sadness, passion and nerdy intensity that she feels about the topic. Duncan may not wear her heart on her sleeve, but if you pay attention it’s not hard to find.
In March 1989, on a cold, snowy day in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, Kocher fatally shot a seven-year-old playmate with a high-powered hunting rifle. He had been playing video games with the girl at her house when she told him that she was better at the game than he. Soon, the girl went outside to ride snowmobiles with other friends and Kocher, angry that his parents wouldn’t let him join them, retrieved the rifle from his father’s gun cabinet, loaded it and pointed it out the window of his home. Then, as the girl rode with a friend on a snowmobile, Kocher shot her in the back.
Minutes later, as the girl lay dying in her living room, Kocher returned to the girl’s house telling another playmate, “If you don’t think about it, you won’t be sad.”
As Kocher’s case progressed through the courts, many took the quote, coupled with the shooting, as evidence of a cold, remorseless child. Uttering that sentence would have severe repercussions for Kocher, beginning with the question of whether he would be treated as an adult by the courts.
In 2002, Duncan published a lengthy article for the Columbia Law Review that explored how expectations of displays of remorse affect how children are treated in the juvenile justice system, particularly in adjudication and sentencing. Duncan, who also holds a doctorate in political science, applied elements of psychology, sociology and literature to several case studies in the article.
As she explains in the article, “’So Young and So Untender’: Remorselessness and the Expectations of the Law,” in Pennsylvania, the State Criminal Court is responsible for all murder cases, even those involving children. However, if the suspect is a juvenile they may petition to have their case sent to juvenile court.
Kocher’s petition to be transferred to juvenile court was denied, in part, because of his quote after the murder. After Kocher’s appeal was denied, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed the case. In its opinion, the state’s high court declared, “He appeared to show no remorse for the crime.” (Cameron Kocher eventually pleaded no contest to felony criminal homicide and, as part of a plea agreement with the local district attorney, was convicted of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter. He was placed on probation until he turned 21.)
Duncan said, when she read about Kocher’s case in The New York Times, she was startled that a child’s apparent lack of remorse would be used against him.
But in juvenile law, Duncan writes, remorse often figures prominently at a critical junction in the process called transfer—the decision whether to treat the child as an adult and send them to adult criminal court or keep them in the juvenile justice system.
Webster’s dictionary defines remorse as “a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs.” Contrition, similarly, is defined as “feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for a sin or shortcoming.”
Most adults can relate to that meaning—nobody’s perfect, after all—but at what age are we first capable of feeling remorse?
According to forensic psychiatrist Louis Kraus of the Rush Medical Center in Chicago, children do not develop a sense of remorse until they are five or six.
“Many kids have difficulty expressing a sense of remorse,” he said. “And many times that is because of trauma they have experienced.”
Kraus says the key is to understand brain development. The part of our brain that controls emotions does not finish growing until our early 20s. As a result, he says, teenagers may have a very difficult time understanding or expressing feelings of remorse.
“It is extremely important that a mental health professional examines any child that enters the court system,” Kraus said, particularly those who do not show remorse.
“Many kids would realize, if remorse plays a big role in their sentencing, to simply say how sorry they are and try to appear remorseful,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, when they don’t say that, what is going on with this kid? A comprehensive mental health assessment would help us understand.”
Kraus adds, “The reality is, a lot of these kids have difficulty with what they say and how they say it.”
Still, displays of contrition or remorse, Duncan writes, are a “legitimate argument” for leaving the child in the juvenile justice system. Children who appear to show remorse or guilt continue to be viewed as children. But children who show none of those emotions are seen as more sophisticated and mature. They may be transferred to the adult criminal justice system, a decision that could have monumental and long-lasting effects, including the possibility of life in prison without parole.
“Sometimes kids are expected to be innocents because of the romantic archetype of the child,” Duncan said.
She added, “In juvenile cases, and juvenile cases alone, sophistication is considered a bad thing. To the degree you [the child] are sophisticated, they [the juvenile justice system] are more likely to treat you as an adult.”
But Duncan contends children are not necessarily equipped to deal with feelings of guilt and remorse. They are particularly adept at using denial to bury strong feelings. The fact that they show no remorse is, in reality, a strong indicator of their immaturity.
She points to Cameron Kocher’s quote as an example.
“Even without any psychological training, one would think that could be an ambiguous comment,” she said. “For one thing, he seems to be trying to avoid feeling that.” It appeared to her, she said, as if Kocher was trying to bury the negative emotions he was feeling. It was a defense mechanism.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, juvenile courts were first created on the principle that children are inherently different than adults. Their brains are not fully developed, they are still learning and they are capable of rehabilitation.
Duncan explains children have a very difficult time showing remorse in cases of murder because of three undeveloped pieces of their development. The first is the “short sadness span,” a concept Martha Wolfenstein, the noted psychoanalyst and author, first put forth in the book, “Death of a Parent and Death of a President.” Wolfenstein said children are only able to endure painful emotions for very short periods of time.
“Just as their attention span is shorter than most adults,” Duncan said, “so their ability to remain in the painful affect of sadness or sorrow is not very long. When you start thinking about it, it’s kind of common sense.”
Once children cannot bear the feelings anymore, they use defense mechanisms to bury them. One of those defenses, and the second developmental piece Duncan discusses, is the tendency to use denial. Children are far more likely to use denial than adults, Duncan says. They push the painful feelings down and block them out because they are too much to bear, as Cameron Kocher seemingly did after fatally shooting his friend. His quote, “If you don’t think about it, you won’t be sad,” appears to indicate his use of denial to block whatever feelings he was experiencing, Duncan said.
The final piece of the puzzle is that children are not experienced enough to fully understand death. They may not think of it as permanent or irreversible and do not fully grasp what has happened.
“Researchers have not yet reached a definitive answer as to the age when most children comprehend death in these three sentences,” she writes.
When the three parts are combined, we often find a child acting cold or without compassion, maybe making jokes at inappropriate times as in the case of Gina Grant who Duncan also writes about. In 1990, when Grant was 14-years-old, she murdered her mother, a violent alcoholic who had recently threatened to kill her. That morning, Grant repeatedly bashed her mother over the head with a heavy candlestick. Later, as a police officer escorted Grant in handcuffs to the restroom she joked, “Don’t worry, I don’t have any body parts in my pocket.” When the sheriff caught wind of Grant’s joke, he concluded she was a “sociopath with no conscious.”
But for many children, the outward face of their emotion may be very different than what they feel inside. Still, society expects to see certain emotions at certain times. However, people, and children especially, are not always equipped to handle intense feelings of grief or remorse immediately. Funerals are an excellent example, Duncan says.
“I find it hard to believe that, in that hour, everyone is feeling grief,” she said. Some of the mourners may indeed feel sadness and grief at that moment, but many more will experience that at another time, in a more private way, she added.
Duncan says she can identify with the struggle to show the proper emotion. The day after her father’s death, she writes in her article, when she was still a young college student, she went to her classes at Columbia University just as she would any other day. Those who knew her and knew of her father’s death looked at her strangely because she showed no signs of grief.
“Actually, I showed no grief because I felt none, and did not for a long time,” she wrote. It was more than a year before she began to feel any strong emotions about her father’s death, and when she did they came forth like a flood.
But this was not the first time she had difficulty displaying the proper emotion.
“Growing up,” she said, “I was never quite having the right reactions, according to my family. They always wanted me to express more feeling. And at the time I was super-intellectual and super-analytical and so I wasn’t having the right reactions, according to them.”
Her experience rendered her uniquely capable of studying what happens to children caught up in the justice system who, like herself, didn’t show the “right reaction.” But for these kids, the consequences are far more serious than a few strange looks. And Duncan is very aware that had things gone horribly wrong early in her life, a judge or jury might have been taking silent note of her own emotionless countenance.
“Fortunately,” she wrote in her matter-of-fact style, “no legal ramifications flowed from my earlier failure to exhibit sadness.”
So, Duncan asks, is it fair to decide a child should be treated as an adult in the eyes of the court when they show no remorse in the days and hours after a death when they are likely incapable of displaying that emotion?
Reading about Kocher’s case started her thinking, she said. How many times has remorse played a role? With the help of a research assistant, Duncan searched for juvenile cases in which the word “remorse” showed up. The team came across more than 200. And there could be hundreds more, Duncan said, because the search didn’t include similar words such as “contrition” or “sorrow.”
More troubling still, how many times did innocent children, who could not show remorse for a crime they did not commit, have their emotions used against them?
“To what extent does the state have the right to demand that you share your interior space with the state?” Duncan asks. “Remorse is not a term of art like ‘malice aforethought’. We can’t just change the statutes, because there often aren’t any statutes.”
She added, “What’s particularly odd was that [the courts] never define remorse. They rarely explain why they got that impression [of the child].”
There is almost no way to know in how many cases remorse has been a determining factor. The internal rationale of judges and juries, Duncan says, is most often just that: internal. And in reality, it may be only one factor of many that contribute to a young person’s sentence.
Duncan is currently working on a book that will delve deeper into the question of remorse and the law. The new book will expand on what she has already written but will also tackle new areas, including how remorse is used in parole hearings.
The March 2012 issue of Pediatrics will contain the first quantified findings detailing the hospitalization rates of children due to serious physical abuse in the United States.
The report, released by the Yale School of Medicine, uncovered 4,569 instances of children being hospitalized due to serious abuse in 2006, with approximately 300 cases in which the children died as a result of serious injuries. According to the findings, children were at their highest likelihood for serious injury within the first 12 months of life, with a projected 58.2 per 100,000 children within the age group being hospitalized for abuse.
Researchers at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital used data from the Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID) to estimate the number of incidences in which children younger than 18-years-old were hospitalized due to serious physical abuse in 2006. The Kids’ Inpatient Database was prepared by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, under the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Head researcher Dr. John M. Leventhal, professor of pediatrics and medical director of the Child Abuse and Child Abuse Prevention Programs at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, said the findings were “alarming.”
“These numbers are higher than the rate of sudden infant death syndrome,” he said.
The report also found that children covered by Medicaid had serious abuse rates that were almost six times higher than children not covered by Medicaid. Additionally, research estimates the national cost for child abuse hospitalizations to be almost $74 million per year.
“This speaks to the importance of poverty as a risk factor for serious abuse,” Leventhal commented. “These data should be useful in examining trends over time and in studying the effects of large-scale prevention programs.”
Reclaiming Futures' six-step model for helping young people who are struggling with alcohol, drugs and crime is receiving an update. The program began in 10 communities in 2001 with a $21 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The mission was to reinvent how juvenile courts, police, and communities work together in the interests of young people.
The six steps in the Reclaiming Futures model were “initial screening,” “initial assessment,” “service coordination,” “initiation,” “engagement” and “transition.” Previously, the final step in the program had been called “completion,” but according to Susan Richardson, Reclaiming Futures’ national executive director, the name wasn’t complete.
Writing on the Reclaiming Futures website, Richardson said completion “is an incomplete and sometimes inaccurate term for the complex work of transitioning out of ‘systems’ and into successful community life.”
Transition, she writes, more accurately portrays the “representative and interactive phase of transitioning youth to life outside of the justice system.”
Currently, the Reclaiming Futures model is used in 29 communities across the country.
The measure -- pushed by David Fowler, a former state senator and president of the Family Council of Tennessee (FACT) -- would alter the current anti-bullying laws in the state, effectively creating a loophole that would protect students from reprimand for expressing their “religious, philosophical, or political views” providing that that they do so without physically threatening another student and/or his or her property.
Additionally, the bill would disallow anti-bullying programs from using materials or training policies that “explicitly or implicitly promote a political agenda [and] make the characteristics of the victim the focus rather than the conduct of the person engaged in harassment, intimidation or bullying.”
In the December 2011 FACT newsletter, Fowler said that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to protect “the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality.” In a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press article, he said that the intent of the bill was to “stop bullying” without creating “special classes of people who are more important than others.”
Both Fowler and the proposed legislation have come under fire from many gay rights activists, with several opponents of the bill saying that it would give students a “license to bully” gay teenagers.
“This kind of legislation can send a message that it’s OK to hate and we’ll even give you religious sanction for it,” said Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project. “As long as you say it for religious reasons, you’ve got backup.”
On a recent FACT radio broadcast, Fowler said “the purpose of bullying statutes is to prevent people or the property being harmed, not their mere sensibilities of being offended.”
According to a spokesman for state Sen. Jim Tracy (R), who sponsored the bill last year, members of the Tennessee Legislature are “reviewing the legislation,” and seeking to “narrow” the “very broad” bill in its current incarnation.
For those whose plans are to lose a stubborn 10 pounds or run a first-ever marathon, the consequences of failure are minimal. For teenagers who have spent at least some of 2011 stoned, drunk and in front of a judge, failing to honor their resolutions can have lifelong results.
In Marietta, Ga., five high school students who are participants in the Cobb County Juvenile Drug Court talked about 2011 and looked ahead to 2012. All of them said they understood the gravity of their situation. They knew that 2012 would be critical for their future.
Relapses are almost always part of recovery. And none of these kids are on their first attempt at staying away from drugs or alcohol. The odds say that not all of these teens will stay clean and sober in 2012. Perhaps none will. But thanks to drug counselors, probation officers and a stern-yet-compassionate judge, each has a fighting chance to say 2012 was the first year in many that didn’t involve illegal drugs and underage drinking.