There are thousands of bills that get introduced at the state level that never get close to becoming laws, but here’s a story about one that shouldn’t have failed — but did partly because of a conservative Christian talking point.
In Wyoming, HB 62 would have required schools to “include suicide prevention instruction in a health and safety program.”
It was presumably in response to the fact that Wyoming always has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. In 2018, it was the worst. it’s also the only state without an in-state prevention hotline.
When the House Education Committee discussed the bill in January, it passed on a 6-3 vote. But when it was taken up for a vote by the entire State House, it failed 25-34.
Why did it fail?
One of the lawmakers who voted against the bill was Republican State Rep. John Bear whose own son died of suicide more than a decade ago. But rather than help other students avoid that fate, he offered up the worst possible argument for why teaching kids about suicide prevention in school was useless. You can hear it for yourself around the 1:47:47 mark of the video below:
About three minutes into his speech, Bear says:
… In one classroom of the school, we are currently teaching the students that they evolved and that we come from chance. And so, in another classroom, and especially if this particular bill passes, we will be teaching them — as we should — that they are loved, and they’re cared for, and that we do not want them to take their life, that we want them around.
Well, I just ask you to think about when an adolescent mind is in the pit of despair, for whatever reason, which of those two things are they gonna go with? Which of those two truths that we have taught them and we have expected our teachers to teach them — which of the two will they go with?
In other words, because kids are taught evolution, there’s no point in teaching them their life has meaning. Therefore, let the kids fend for themselves. Unless religion is forced upon them, there’s nothing that can be done.
Bear went on to characterize this battle as “hope versus hopelessness” and complained about how “we have restricted our teachers away from being able to discuss the one place where they can find hope,” referring to forced religion in school.
After the bill failed, Bear bragged about his anti-science rant on Facebook:
He says in that video that the bill was likely going to pass, but “10 votes turned on my testimony.”
This is what happens when you elect Christian Nationalists to office: Even common sense legislation can’t pass because they believe science is a giant conspiracy. Evolution doesn’t teach you that you’re meaningless. Pastors who don’t understand how science works may teach that, but they’re ignorant liars who shouldn’t be trusted. Science isn’t the enemy. Ignorance is.
Bear sided with ignorance.
Instead of using his own tragedy to help other families, he decided Wyoming should maintain its worst-in-the-nation suicide rate. For Jesus.
Bear also defended his move to a critic on Facebook:
… If you listen carefully to my testimony, I state that the schools are teaching evolution. A concept that is incongruent with life having meaning and purpose. If we are here simply due to chance, then there is no hope, no purpose for going on. If that is what we continue to teach children, then you and I should expect suicide rates to continue to rise, no matter how many people try to intervene. We are causing the epidemic, so until we get serious about removing the cause, we won’t be able to change any of this. I will simply point to the history of the United States and our constant effort to secularize our schools and other institutions. As we have removed God from society, suicides have increased.
Bear is lying because his Christian faith apparently doesn’t require him to tell the truth. There’s no evidence that atheism leads to suicide. If you’re part of an organized group of any kind, and are part of some community that makes you happy, you’re less likely to want to end your own life. Obviously, sadly, there are many exceptions. Still, it would be utterly foolish — and wildly irresponsible — to jump to the conclusion that atheism itself is a problem. Atheists who belong to welcoming communities are no more at risk than anyone else.
For what it’s worth, one Democrat offered a sensible response to Bear:
… House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly countered that not all young people attend church. She noted that in a legislative hearing on the bill, a number of students testified that they were aware a sibling was considering suicide.
“And these kids testified that they wished they knew what to do. If they knew what to do they may have behaved differently, they might have saved a life,” said Connolly.
I missed this story when it happened in February, and I only was made aware of it now when Kerry Drake at WyoFile used it as an example of how Wyoming lawmakers went home from the legislative session with an “enormous amount of inaction — particularly on the most crucial issues facing the state.”
No wonder they can’t get anything done. When your entire legislature is full of Republicans, you can’t count on them passing sensible policy measures. There will always be lawmakers who find religious reasons for ruining everything.
Bear is a perfect example of a faith-based idiot whose irrational thinking will now haunt so many others throughout the state.
(via WyoFile. Thanks to Brian for the link)