Last week, a student in Chester Nova Scotia was suspended from school due to student complaints over his t-shirt. The offending shirt had the words “Life Is Wasted Without Jesus” emblazoned on the front. A debate developed over the appropriateness of this suspension, and ultimately the penalty was overturned by the local school board.
On the face of it, the logo is offensive to anyone who does not follow his beliefs about Jesus. However, the principles of free speech guarantee the right of individuals to speak freely, not the right of people to not be offended. On the other hand, schools are supposed to be places where students can feel safe from being bullied and attacked for their beliefs, their lack of beliefs, or anything else that can serve to ostracize them from the rest of the student body. For example, should I wish to walk down the street wearing a shirt that proclaims “Christians are all fools” I am within my rights to do so. Just as anyone can wear a shirt with a logo that claims that gays will suffer the eternal torments. of hell. Should either of these shirts be allowed in schools? I don’t think so.
This puts school authorities in the difficult position of balancing the sometimes conflicting concepts of free speech and inclusiveness. In this instance, it appears that the t-shirt is only part of the problem with this particular student. According to the CBC,
Students said William Swinimer has been preaching and making them feel uncomfortable, and the shirt was the last straw so they complained.
“He’s told kids they’ll burn in hell if they don’t confess themselves to Jesus,” student Riley Gibb-Smith said.
Katelyn Hiltz, student council vice-president, agreed the controversy didn’t begin with the T-shirt.
“It started with him preaching his religion to kids and then telling them to go to hell. A lot of kids don’t want to deal with this anymore,” she said.
He also seems to think that after 12 years, he and his family, can use his new found fame pressure a change in the school.
A Nova Scotia student suspended from classes for five days for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Life Is Wasted Without Jesus” returned to school today wearing the same garment, but he was quickly taken home by his father.
William Swinimer, who’s in Grade 12, was scheduled to attend a session for all students on how to express their beliefs in a way that is respectful to all.
But John Swinimer said he wants Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Lunenburg County, to only teach the basic courses, leaving religion out of it.
“He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old-fashioned academics,” he said, waving a New Testament bible. “When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra-curricular activity, he will not attend that school.”
Suddenly we have a different picture of this student. He has a history of being an aggressive proselyte who has been accosting students for some time. He stakes the stance that forums on inclusiveness should not exist within the school and that only the three Rs should be on the curriculum.
If we look at the t-shirt in isolation, it appears to be an issue of an attempt to suppress free speech. A deeper look suggests that this student has been an individual who has had a disruptive influence on the school for some time. This would suggest the need for some form of administrative interference. Whether that should have been in the form of suspension is up for debate, and most certainly it should not have been over the shirt itself.