One of my biggest concerns about the current push in this country for school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies is whether there is any limit on what types of actions these policies authorize the government to take in the name of protecting students from words that make them “feel bad” or that “offend” them. Well, an article I recently read about a young woman in Iceland fighting for the right to keep her given name provides a chilling (I could not help myself) example of just how far governments are willing to go.
The government of Iceland has prohibited a young girl named Blaer, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic, from using her name because it does not appear on the Personal Names Register, a list of government-approved male and female names. In place of her government prohibited name, Icelandic officials refer to her as “Stulka,” which means “girl,” in all official communications. And why does the Icelandic government wield such an iron fist over the names parents can give their children? The article says “to protect children from embarrassment.” In other words, the government is concerned that children will be picked on, bullied, or harassed if given the “wrong” name by their parents. As for Blaer, the special government committee that reviews name denial appeals was concerned because “the word Blaer takes a masculine article.”
Now I know that the article explains that the people of Iceland are ”comfortable with a firm state role,” but this Icelandic story of injustice should give us pause in the anti-bullying debate in this country. What is occurring in Iceland is just an extreme example of the type of egregious government actions authorized by the worldview underlying the anti-bullying policies leftist groups in this country are pushing. These policies are motivated by our culture’s seeming ever-increasing desire to keep children from having their feelings hurt — a laudable (albeit practically unachievable, in my view) goal, no doubt, but one nonetheless fraught with dangerous implications for our First Amendment liberties when enforced through state and local anti-bullying policies. While Iceland has wildly overreached in an attempt to prevent children from experiencing hurt feelings and embarrassment, Blaer’s situation should remind us that we have a duty in this country to vigilantly defend against even the first experiment on our liberties, including where anti-bullying policies are being proposed in our communities. Otherwise, we may find ourselves slipping down the Icelandic path (again, I just could not help it).
Here at Alliance Defending Freedom we have detailed our concerns with anti-bullying policies, and the dangers they pose to students’ First Amendment freedoms, in our Anti-Bullying Policy Yardstick. I commend it, and Blaer’s story, to your review and reflection.