A student was suspended from a high school in Nova Scotia because he wore a T-shirt with the slogan "Life is wasted without Jesus." The boy is defying school authorities, saying he will continue wearing the T-shirt when he returns to class next week.
The boy, William Swinimer, is a Christian and student of Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Lunnenburg County. William says that the T-shirt slogan expresses his religious beliefs and that he will not stop wearing it.
National Post reports that the yellow T-shirt with the slogan "Life is Wasted Without Jesus" had been just another shirt in the 19-year-old's wardrobe until the school vice principal told him that the words were "hate talk." Swinimer began wearing the shirt everyday for several weeks. National Post reports Swinimer said: “I believe this is worth standing up for — it’s not just standing up for religious rights, it’s standing up for my rights as a Canadian citizen; for freedom of speech, freedom of religion. I don’t think this is right.” He added: “There was no profane language, there was no drug references, there was nothing inappropriate on [my] shirt." Swinimer wondered why he could not wear his T-shirt when others were allowed to wear T-shirts with slogans such as "Hail Satan."
CBC reports he said: "I believe there are things that are bigger than me. And I think that I need to stand up for the rights of people in this country, and religious rights and freedom of speech."
The Grade 12 student was suspended for five days and will return to school on Monday. CBC reports that officials of the South Shore Regional School Board have said they will meet with Swinimer, hopefully to reach a compromise.
Board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, said that Swinimer was suspended because some students and teachers said they found the T-shirt slogan offensive. She said: "When one is able or others are able to interpret it as, 'If you don't share my belief then your life is wasted,' that can be interpreted by some as being inappropriate."
According to CTV, Pynch-Worthylake said the wording of the T-shirt is offensive because it does not merely express the belief of Swinimer but attacks the beliefs of others. The school board superintendent said: "If I have an expression that says 'My life is enhanced with Jesus,' then there's no issue with that, everybody is able to quickly understand that that's my opinion about my own belief. If the shirt were to say 'Without Jesus, your life is a complete waste,' then that's clear that it is an opinion aimed at somebody else's belief."
Pynch-Worhylake insisted that Swinimer's case was handled like several similar cases at the school involving complaints about offensive slogans. She explains how the school approaches such complaints: “In meeting with students, we would ask ‘Is it blatantly offensive? And in this case it was ‘No.’ Is it obvious that someone would be silly to think it’s offensive? Well no — we can kind of see both [sides]. And then in meeting and talking with students we would say ‘The easy way to deal with this respectfully would be to just wear a different shirt.’”
But unfortunately, being told that some might find his T-shirt slogan offensive provoked defiance in Swinimer. He wouldn't wear any other shirt beside the particular shirt he had been told not to wear, and according to school authorities defiance is grounds for suspension. CBC reports Swinimer wore the T-shirt to class every day for several weeks. According to Swinimer, the principal said he would accept a T-shirt slogan that said something like: "My life is wasted without Jesus." But Swinimer said: "I didn't go for that because I have my rights as a Canadian citizen."
Swinimer, who said he will continue wearing the T-shirt, insists that he has no intention to offend anyone else's belief. He said he was prepared to be suspended from school for the rest of the year.
CTV reports that Varrick Day, the pastor at Swinimer's Pentecostal church, Jesus the Good Shepherd Church, said the boy feels that his religious freedom is being infringed upon at his school. Day said: "His reaction is that he is being bullied by the school itself, not the students, when it comes to his freedom of speech within the school and his freedom of sharing his faith."
To clarify its position, the school management issued a statement that said: “Students may choose to wear clothing that embraces their beliefs. However, it is expected that students will not wear clothing with messages that may offend others’ beliefs, race, religion, culture or lifestyle.”
According to CBC, the school is planning to bring in experts for guidance on the matter and help to mediate the dispute. Pynch-Worthylake said: "We'll be looking for some people with understanding in this area to help us with that."