If you’re a Christian, you probably think that statement is just common sense. If you aren’t a Christian, you probably rolled your eyes and moved on. And if you’re an administrator at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, you think it’s hateful speech meriting suspension from school:
William Swinimer was suspended from the Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin for five days on Monday, after he defied the principal’s instruction not to wear a yellow T-shirt sporting the phrase “Life is wasted without Jesus” anymore.
He’d worn the shirt to school several times before he was told two weeks ago that another student had complained. That was when he was told to leave it out of his school week wardrobe.
Swinimer says he never intended to be rude or disrespectful, but he’ll keep wearing the shirt because he stands behind its message.
“That’s my opinion, but under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms I’m allowed to have my opinion and express my opinion,” the Grade 12 student told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday.
“The only reason I’m wearing the T-shirt continually now is because I’m standing up for my rights as a Canadian citizen.”
But according to South Shore Regional School Board Supt. Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, the problem is not that the shirt sports a religious message, but that this particular message appears aimed at denigrating those who don’t agree.
“We do ask that our students are expressing their views in a way that could not be interpreted by other students as a criticism of their beliefs,” Pynch-Worthylake told CTV Atlantic on Thursday.
A good test case: let’s get a female student at Forest Heights to wear a shirt reading “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries” and see what happens.
More here and here. If a teacher was using his position in a public school to promote his religion, I’d understand the controversy. (There’s also some suggestion that Swinimer has been aggressive in confronting other students about his Christian beliefs, which wouldn’t necessarily merit a suspension, but could at least be said to be imposing on other students’ rights.) But “keeping religion out of the schools” doesn’t mean students shouldn’t be allowed to express their religious beliefs. Unless you’re in France, at least.
At least one student has gotten the message: if you see something that offends you, whine about it until it’s removed from your sight.
Grade 11 student Niall Barkes told CTV Atlantic that interpretion is within reason.
“I’m an atheist myself and I’m kind of offended because he’s basically stating that my life is wasted without Jesus, it’s just not a fair statement at all and I think the reason for him getting suspended is reasonable,” Barkes said.
I believed a lot of obnoxious, self-righteous things when I was your age, too, Mr. Barkes.