A Michigan state senator has passionately condemned a new anti-bullying law which provides an exception whereby bullying may be able to be justified because of religious or moral beliefs.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer described the new law as a “Republican licence to bully”, saying: “As passed today, bullying kids is OK if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”

“Matt’s Safe School Law”, was named for 14-year-old Matt Epling, a Michigan student who committed suicide in 2008 after being bullied by his classmates.

But the law does not prohibit the expression of religious or moral beliefs, and many fear that it will be of little use in protecting bullied students if bullying is able to be justified on such grounds.

Senator Whitmer mentioned ten Michigan students who had committed suicide in the last decade as a result of bullying, and claimed the new legislation would not have prevented any of their deaths.

She told the Michigan state senate: “You may be able to pat yourselves on the back today and say that you did something, but in actuality you are explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying”.