An administrative judge in New Jersey has upheld a school district ruling that a sixth-grade student committed “harassment” by advising another student he should eat meat.
Officials at the unidentified grade school in a lovely suburb near Princeton punished the student with “five lunch-time detentions.” The judge upheld the boy’s sentence, reports noted law professor Eugene Volokh at The Washington Post.
The school board’s court testimony refers to the boy who took a principled stand against vegetarianism as “C.C.” The vegetarian kid is called “K.S.”
According to a school report, “C.C. told K.S. that ‘it’s not good to not eat meat’ and that “he should eat meat because he’d be smarter and have bigger brains.”
The kerfuffle then apparently escalated. C.C. “told K.S. that ‘vegetarians are idiots.'”
C.C. was convicted of “harassment, intimidation, or bullying.”
It’s not clear what K.S.’s responses were, if any, or whether they also could be construed as “harassment, intimidation, or bullying.”
The state of New Jersey boasts some of the strictest anti-bullying law in the country and has held trials for kids who call each other names on the playground. In 2013, for example, an eighth-grader in the village of Ridgewood who allegedly called a girl “horse,” fat” and “fat ass” faced actual criminal prosecution under a 2011 law. The boy in that case denied calling his classmate any name other than “horse.” (RELATED: Under Strict Bullying Law, Kid Who Called Classmate ‘Horse’ And ‘Fat Ass’ Goes To Court)
The judge in the current case cited a New Jersey law which defines “harassment, intimidation or bullying” (longwindedly) as “any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function.”
“The report found that C.C. told K.S. that ‘it’s not good to not eat meat’ and that ‘he should eat meat because he’d be smarter and have bigger brains,'” the judge wrote. “C.C. himself wrote that he told K.S. that ‘vegetarians are idiots.'”
“I CONCLUDE” — the judge put these words entirely in capital letters — “that those comments are reasonably perceived to be motivated by the distinguishing characteristic of K.S. being a vegetarian.”
Volokh, who teaches constitutional law at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted the oddity of the judge determining that the statements “vegetarians are idiots” and “it’s not good to not eat meat” — by a sixth-grade boy — are equally harassing.
“And once the law calls such speech ‘harassment,'” Volokh warns, “it’s easy for these labels to be applied in other areas as well, especially because the labels are so ill-defined and potentially so broad.”