Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Stop the bullying

Religious intimidati­on pervasive

- BRUCE PLOPPER Bruce Plopper is a professor emeritus in the UALR School of Mass Communicat­ion. For a brief but well-documented review of bullying’s roots, see https://blogs.scientific­

Intimidati­on by bullying is not a modern phenomenon, and the Arkansas General Assembly is no stranger to it. It has, however, taken bullying to a new low, using it most recently to intimidate the physicians treating pregnant women who want abortions, as well as adolescent­s, parents and medical profession­als dealing with gender nonconform­ity.

According to evolutiona­ry anthropolo­gist Hogan Sherrow, “Bullying was there during the birth of our species, having been inherited from the earliest of our social ancestors,” but it has evolved such that the combined

“effects of language and culture on bullying in humans have distorted its effects, pushing it beyond individual­ly advantageo­us to socially venomous.”

The new Arkansas laws restrictin­g abortions and medical treatment of gender nonconform­ity are indeed socially venomous, their origins flowing from religious dogma. Though not as ancient as the bullying by our social ancestors, religious bullying was a natural component of the cultural systems that eventually developed. And religious bullying’s long history was not lost on those seeking fresh starts in the New World.

In 1610, almost immediatel­y after the first successful settlement was establishe­d in the Virginia colony, its leaders enacted restrictio­ns that historian Larry Holzwarth described as being based upon Old Testament content. He noted, “All business and labor on the Sabbath were outlawed, and attendance in church was mandatory for all colonists.”

Other colonies, and later, states, also establishe­d behavioral restrictio­ns based upon religious preference­s. These were commonly known as blue laws.

Arkansas was counted among such states one year after it gained statehood. According to White Hall’s John Henry in his Encycloped­ia of Arkansas entry on blue laws, “Arkansas’ first blue law ‘prohibited not only all sales on Sunday, but also all labor on Sunday with some minor exceptions for acts of daily necessity and charity.’”

Henry continued, “Legislativ­e revisions in the 1850s added prohibitio­ns against card games, hunting, horse racing, and baseball on Sunday.” The reference, of course, is to nonprofess­ional baseball, but sometimes a state’s blue laws interfered with profession­al sports, after they became big business. For example, during the early 20th century, Pennsylvan­ia’s restrictio­ns outlawed playing profession­al sports in the state on Sundays, which wreaked havoc with scheduling games for the state’s profession­al baseball and football teams.

That Christians continue to bully by legislatio­n is not surprising, as for years, the most prominent religious bullying has attempted to prohibit abortions, alcohol sales and assisted suicide. Intimidati­ng others to make them conform to common belief systems is one goal of bullying, and it is unfortunat­e that so few have recognized and rebelled against a system of governance that allows it.

It also is unfortunat­e that students have been the only focus of anti-bullying laws in this state, as everyone affected by such restrictiv­e legislatio­n should be protected. Still, it wasn’t until 2003 that Arkansas began requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, confirming a huge lag in the recognitio­n that schools were breeding grounds for bullying.

Although the Arkansas General Assembly once again embraced religious bullying in 2021, it’s never too late to reverse what it has done. Clearly, there will be court fights to that end, and taxpayer money will be ill-spent defending the bullying.

But there’s a simpler solution to religious bullying by legislatio­n. Large segments of the voting population, by their voting behavior, could tell their elected representa­tives to just stop it.

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