By Michael Gryboski , Christian Post Reporter
May 4, 2012|4:00 pm
A teenage Canadian student was suspended for wearing a yellow t-shirt to school that reads “Life is Wasted Without Jesus.”
William Swinimer, a 19-year-old Nova Scotia resident who attends Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, was given multiple in-school suspensions for wearing the shirt. Finally, he was also handed a five day out of school suspension, which ends Monday.
Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Centre for Faith and Public Life of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told The Christian Post that the school’s disciplinary efforts were “inappropriate.”
“I think it was inappropriate for the school to suspend the student. The student was simply exercising his right to freedom of expression and religion,” said Sonier.
“Schools and school boards seem to think that public schools need to be a religion-free zone, and that’s not at all the case. In fact the Supreme Court of Canada has been clear that schools are to be an inclusive and welcoming space for all.”
In an interview with a Canadian publication, South Shore Regional School Board Superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, whose governing territory includes Forest Heights, explained that Swinimer got into trouble due to complaints by peers regarding the content of his shirt.
“I know it’s out there that somehow we don’t allow religious beliefs in school, which is absolutely false,” said Pynch-Worthylake to the National Post.
“The only time is when we have students come forward and say ‘I really feel this is a criticism of my beliefs’ and that’s what happened in this situation.”
Regarding the issue of offensive content given the nature of the shirt’s message, Sonier told CP that students and officials who are offended should “get over it.”
“We Canadians offend each other every day, intentionally and unintentionally. It’s part of living in such a vibrant society. And for the most part, we do it well,” said Sonier.
“In terms of it being hateful, it isn’t. The Criminal Code sets a high standard for what is considered hate propaganda, and I don’t know how anyone…in good conscience could say that this comes anywhere close to meeting that standard.”
The EFC has sent Pynch-Worthylake an open letter denouncing the treatment of Swinimer and offering legal arguments on the student’s benefit.
“Unless one can act in a non-harmful way in public dialogue, inspired by one’s religious beliefs, then one does not have religious freedom but only the freedom to believe,” reads the letter in part.
“We therefore urge you to publicly communicate that your school board will permit lawful and reasonable expression of religious belief and that you will refrain from penalizing any students who exercise their Charter rights to freedom of religion and expression.”
While EFC awaits a response from the School Board, Swinimer intends to continue to wear the shirt, as he has explained to local media.
“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,” said Swinimer.
Forest Heights Community School of Chester Basin, Nova Scotia did not return a request for comments by press time.