Thinking Christian

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“Canadian Student Suspended for “Jesus” T-Shirt – UPDATED”

Posted on May 21, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Swiminer-and-his-tshirt-300x164.jpgThere’s a definite religious freedom theme here. There’s also a human respect issue going on.

William Swiminer, a 12-grade student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been suspended for a second time for wearing a T-shirt which mentioned the name of Jesus.

[From Canadian Student Suspended for “Jesus” T-Shirt – UPDATED]

Here’s the human respect angle, as I see it. Swiminer’s T-Shirt was supposedly offensive. The school board superintendent’s position is that “’it was never about the shirt,’ but rather, about how to express one’s beliefs without offending others.”

The school felt it necessary to protect other students from its message. Why doesn’t the school respect other students enough to quit babying them, let them grow up, and handle these things for themselves?

I have my own guess, but I’ll let you comment and tell me what you think the answer might be.

33 Responses to “ “Canadian Student Suspended for “Jesus” T-Shirt – UPDATED” ”

  1. Sault says:

    There are other ways to deal with what you might consider an inappropriate suspension than a repeat offense (with more promised).

    I think that the school officials took great pains to emphasize that if he wished to make a personal statement “my life is wasted without Jesus” than it would have been acceptable, rather than the blanket proselytizing statement “Life is wasted without Jesus.” The first is a more or less acceptable statement of personal beliefs, but the second could be construed as supporting religion… and if they support one religion, they must support them all.

    Instead of having a discussion or dialogue at any point of the process, which would have been the rational thing, he chose to defy the law and make a martyr out of himself. Suspension is perfectly in line with someone who is simply intent upon disrupting an environment rather than engage in reasonable discussion.

    Because of this unwillingness to make a very reasonable compromise and an unwillingness to enter into dialogue with school officials and an insistence on trying to be a martyr, I see this as an example of “Christian privilege”, where Christians feel that they deserve special treatment, rather than a legitimate protest advocating free speech.

    For those who don’t know, the Canadian standard of free speech is different from ours. They wouldn’t allow Fox News into the country, for instance, because of how much they lie. America is far more permissive of such things than other countries are.

    If you feel that public schools should be more permissive of religious paraphernalia, I would be interested to hear a rational argument in favor of it… and if so, why a Pastafarian colander might not be.

  2. BillT says:

    “They wouldn’t allow Fox News into the country, for instance, because of how much they lie.”

    Yes, it must be all those other news outlets that report exactly what the New York Times tells them to that are “telling the truth”. And that’s not to mention that the article linked is written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Wow, Sault, you really know how to pick ‘em.

  3. I think this is quite simple. It’s not a freedom of religion thing, it’s a civil liberty thing. Unless someone’s attire sets out to deliberately incite hate – as in a hate-crime – then we should be allowed to wear what we please.

    As a secular atheist, I couldn’t care less what people wear or believe in. However, I do care how people act. This young man’s behaviour is not being called into question, nor should it. The shirt’s message isn’t secular – by any stretch – but then it doesn’t need to be. It is certainly not any more offensive than any of the atheist billboards I have seen.

    I fail to see the brou-ha-ha.

  4. mm says:

    The one poster needs to start doing what the blog says and thinking Christian. It shouldn’t be so hard to see the evidence of God’s existence because it’s all around us. It’s irrational to try and explain the universe without God, and you should open your eyes and heart to the truth. Don’t waste your life without Jesus.

  5. Justin says:

    So it is okay to express your religious views as long as it is in a relativistic, “it’s true for me, but maybe not you” kind of way. Got it.

  6. Sault says:

    Exactly, Justin. It’s called respect. “I’ll let you believe what you want to believe as long as you let me believe what I want to believe.”

    It’s a difficult topic for some Christians, because of the whole evangelism thing and how our culture is becoming so polarized… but yeah. Respecting and honoring other people, even when you don’t agree with them, is actually kind of important.

    I would even go as far as saying that you’re supposed to let someone who strikes you in one cheek strike you in the other as well. Meek shall inherit the earth, too. Can’t quite remember who said that. I think it was someone important…

    (of course, that’s if you want to liken someone who asks you to present your religious opinions in purely personal terms as “striking you in the cheek” Lolz!)

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    And what exactly is it about wearing a shirt with an opinion on it that fails to let others believe as they choose? Or fails in any of the other ways you’ve mentioned?

  8. SteveK says:

    I’ve never understood the “don’t force your beliefs on me” crowd. Who’s forcing anything on you? Do my words leave you unable to disagree and still believe what you want?

  9. Sault says:

    It’s one thing to say “I’m a Democrat”, it’s another thing to hold up a picket sign saying “Vote for Demmy McLiberal”.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    So if I understand you correctly, the problem is in telling someone what to do? But that can’t be it; that’s not what this student did. So I’m still confuzzed, as my daughter likes to say it.

  11. BillT says:

    Sault still doesn’t get it. He doesn’t think others should tell people what to do while he simultaneously tells others what they should do. Hmmmmm?

  12. Mike Gene says:

    Sault: I think that the school officials took great pains to emphasize that if he wished to make a personal statement “my life is wasted without Jesus” than it would have been acceptable, rather than the blanket proselytizing statement “Life is wasted without Jesus.” The first is a more or less acceptable statement of personal beliefs, but the second could be construed as supporting religion… and if they support one religion, they must support them all.

    One would have to be either incredibly stupid or incredibly dishonest to construe a student’s t-shirt as the school’s position. If a student wears a Lady Gaga t-shirt, are we supposed to interpret this to mean the school supports Lady Gaga?

    Because of this unwillingness to make a very reasonable compromise and an unwillingness to enter into dialogue with school officials and an insistence on trying to be a martyr, I see this as an example of “Christian privilege”, where Christians feel that they deserve special treatment, rather than a legitimate protest advocating free speech.

    You claim that by having him deface his own property that this is a “very reasonable compromise.” But this is nothing more than your own personal belief. I view this as an attempt to humiliate the student and make an example of him. Thus, I’d like to know if the school officials are secularists.

    It is interesting that you expect the student to qualify his beliefs as personal beliefs, yet you feel free to advertise your own beliefs without such qualifications. You should have written, “Because of this unwillingness to make what I personally believe to be a very reasonable compromise…” But you didn’t. Would you like to explain why your complaints are rooted in hypocrisy?

    As for your other personal belief about “Christian privilege,” you are entitled to your personal opinions, but why is it that you have no evidence? If you are going to make this claim, you would need to survey a much larger population of these students to see what type of t-shirts they wear. For example, if no other students wore t-shirts that might be deemed offensive by Christian students (a Lady Gaga t-shirt, for example), then you could make a case for “Christian privilege.” Alternatively, if many other students have been suspended for wearing other types of “offensive” t-shirt, then might be able to make a case for “Christian privilege.” Without this evidence, I would classify your personal belief as a fantasy.

    If you feel that public schools should be more permissive of religious paraphernalia, I would be interested to hear a rational argument in favor of it…

    I seem to recall you are an atheist. As such, let’s speak the common language of secular ethics which, I believe, maintains that something is only wrong if it causes harm. My response is thus simple – I see no evidence that allowing this student to wear that t-shirt causes any harm. If you have any evidence that the t-shirt does cause harm, I would be interested to hear this evidence.

  13. d says:

    Sounds like the school is in the wrong, though I’ve heard mixed reports… some are saying that the shirt was just the straw on the camels back, in a general pattern of pestering and evangelizing from the kid.

    Is being an arrogant pest with a stupid, rather offensive shirt is worthy of the suspensions he recieved? Probably not

    But the message of “Don’t be an arrogant pest” seems to be lost in the kerfuffle, along with the other general questions to be raised about the shirt’s appropriateness for a public school venue.

  14. Sault says:

    Tom, would you mind explaining, for the benefit of everyone else, why you deleted my post?

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    It didn’t meet the discussion guidelines. If that’s not clear enough you can re-read them. I doubt anyone else cares to know more.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, at the high risk of being repetitive,

    So if I understand you correctly, the problem is in telling someone what to do? But that can’t be it; that’s not what this student did. So I’m still confuzzed, as my daughter likes to say it.

  17. Sault says:

    For those that didn’t catch it before it was deleted, it was a list of potential t-shirt slogans that were inappropriate without actually being hate-crime. It was a response to comment #3.

    Even though it was a legitimate statement, well within what is constitutionally protected under American free speech, the appropriate authority deemed it unacceptable, and censored it…. and that’s perfectly acceptable, because he (Tom) wants to preserve an environment where discussion and (dare I say) a bit of learning might take place, and if my comment had stayed in place, it might have disrupted that environment.

    I apologize for inadvertently breaking discussion guidelines, and will be more mindful going forward. <– reasonable response

    I think your censoring is a load of crap, and I will continue posting that exact same message until I am kicked and banned from this forum, because I have the right to be here and to say exactly what's on my mind without any fear of reprisal. <– unreasonable response

    I'm going to go with response #1. This kid went with response #2.

    Was he "telling" other kids what to do? I guess it depends on what you perceive evangelism to be. I see it as a provocative statement, one that is pushing religious opinions. It falls under the same category as political statements and pro-drug use slogans as well, if that helps explain what I'm trying to communicate.

    Note – after reading up a bit on Canadian law, it seems that the school officials were well within their legal rights (brief summary).

    I have a feeling that d is right… there is more to this story than we know. It is highly likely (especially reading about his father’s response to all of this) that this is not an isolated incident, but one part of a repeated pattern of disrupting the learning environment.

    Anyways, Tom, I do apologize. I honestly did not realize that I had stepped over the line, and will be more mindful going forward.

  18. Fleegman says:

    If it’s just about the t-shirt, I think the school was in the wrong, here. Was anyone actually complaining that they were offended by it? I mean, the message is so meh. 

    @Mike Gene

    As for your other personal belief about “Christian privilege,” you are entitled to your personal opinions, but why is it that you have no evidence?

    Do you not think there is such a thing as Christian Privilege? In The States, for example, if one person wore the t-shirt in question, and another wore one saying “Life is WASTED believing in Jesus,” do you think they would be treated equally by the students, or the school?

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    I appreciate your apology, and welcome your continuing comments here.

    Just for the record, though:

    1. Your message was not well within the limits of what is constitutionally protected free speech in America. The city of Virginia Beach has a no-profanity ordinance, enforceable in public places like shopping malls. The Commonwealth of Virginia allows any jurisdiction to enact such laws. They have not been found unconstitutional.

    Maybe you think there was no actual profanity in your T-shirt slogans since you used “#*!@ ” to disguise a word. Still as I understand it there is no protection for speech supporting highly illegal acts, as at least three of your T-shirt slogans did.

    2. Even if that were not true, the Constitution’s protections apply to governmental infringement on free speech. I am not the government.

    So let’s think about how your illustration–(a well-conceived and well-written one, by the way) applies to the student in question.

    A. Your deleted comment was highly offensive by normal persons’ standards. I think you would agree with that, and I think the great majority of others would too. If you want to draw an analogy with this Canadian case, then I think you would have to say that the boy’s T-shirt would be regarded by consensus to be highly offensive by normal persons’ standards.

    A1. If that is true, then what we have here is an admission that normal, everyday Christian doctrine has become an offense to most persons. I think that’s news, don’t you? It’s something that I as a Christian would want to address, and am addressing, at least to the extent that makes sense in view of the fact that I don’t really know if A1 is the case.

    A2. If it’s not true, then of course your analogy fails.

    B. You expressed your profanity in a private place, where there is no requirement, no expectation, nothing of the sort that says you ought to be here. You are here entirely by choice. That wasn’t so for Swiminer in the public school environment.

    C. I don’t know Canadian law, so I can’t comment on that. I refer you instead to the first sentence of the story I linked to: “Watch out, Americans: This story may be coming to a high school near you.” I think that’s possible. Here in the U.S. it would be a violation of religious freedom.

    D. I stand by my other reflection in the OP: “The school felt it necessary to protect other students from its message. Why doesn’t the school respect other students enough to quit babying them, let them grow up, and handle these things for themselves?” In other words, I can’t see why this T-shirt message was so overly offensive that others couldn’t deal with it as young adults. I can’t even understand why they couldn’t deal with it non-disruptively.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman, I agree with you (almost) completely here:

    Was anyone actually complaining that they were offended by it? I mean, the message is so meh.

    To me the message is meaningful, but to someone who didn’t agree with it, meh makes a lot more sense than “Oh, I am so offended!”

    In The States, for example, if one person wore the t-shirt in question, and another wore one saying “Life is WASTED believing in Jesus,” do you think they would be treated equally by the students, or the school?

    Yes, as far as is relevant. I think either one would provoke disagreement and possibly heated discussion. I doubt either one would commonly provoke any bullying or administrative action.

  21. Holopupenko says:

    Sault:

    Do you have any idea what the difference is between a “right” and a “privilege”? Do you understand that it’s a REAL load of crap to think you can judge (the way you did) what is deemed permissible on a blog fully owned by Tom? Maybe you’d like to plant a burning capital “A” on this blog?

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Careful, Holopupenko; that one almost caught me, too, and then on a second or third reading I realized he didn’t mean it. He was play-acting that role, you might say, in order to demonstrate a point.

  23. Sault says:

    @ Holo

    While I’m in the middle of another reply, I just want to say that what I presented was not meant to be insulting, provocative, or challenging to Tom, it was only to make a point. I disagree with him (just as I disagree on some things with you, Holo) but I respect his authority over this forum. It is his, I feel that he practices good stewardship over it, and while I have intense emotional reactions to his opinions regarding same-sex marriage, I nonetheless appreciate the chance to have these sorts of exchanges. I do not challenge his sovereignty here.

    Quite frankly, planting a burning “A” here (in any sense of the phrase) wouldn’t seem right anyways… And if I did that, I probably wouldn’t have any chance to interact with you! I would miss that.

  24. Sault says:

    Maybe you think there was no actual profanity in your T-shirt slogans since you used “#*!@ ” to disguise a word.

    While I think that I got the symbols wrong, that is actually what the t-shirt said, verbatim. Protected? Perhaps. Tasteless? Umm, yeah.

    The point that I was originally trying to make is that some t-shirt slogans shouldn’t be allowed, even when they aren’t hate-crime oriented… well, that might have gotten lost in the delivery. Ahem.

    I am not the government.

    Of course not. The analogy that I was trying to draw is that under some circumstances, the right (and need) to preserve an educational/polite/reasonable environment trumps a person’s rights to free speech.

    If you want to draw an analogy with this Canadian case, then I think you would have to say that the boy’s T-shirt would be regarded by consensus to be highly offensive by normal persons’ standards.

    Offensive… or provocative?

    I started browsing through some anti-Obama swag and found t-shirts that called him a “false messiah”. I could see some people being offended by that. I could also see others using it as a chance to start a discussion. I can also see others reacting heatedly… and some even agreeing loudly. None of these are conducive to the learning environment… what I mean is that they take energy and focus away from learning what is at least theoretically supposed to be Useful Stuff.

    Could some people be offended by “Your Life is Wasted Without Jesus”? Sure, but theirs is not the only potential reaction… but any reaction other than neutral detracts from the learning environment.

    I’m thinking back to one time in middle school where a kid wore a t-shirt with the word “blunt” on it. He was sent home to change. I thought it was rather odd that someone would have to change because their shirt referenced a non-sharp object, but others were better informed than I… and he also was known as a druggie.

    I can’t help but speculate that this kid was known to be an outspoken Christian… which I think is fine, but there’s a certain point beyond which expressing your opinion simply becomes disruptive and unwelcome.

    I can’t even understand why they couldn’t deal with it non-disruptively.

    It sounds like he was the one who made a big deal out of it. He could have gone home and just changed into a different t-shirt. He could have flipped it inside-out. Defacing the t-shirt wouldn’t be a reasonable option, yeah, but changing it is…. if he was being reasonable. He wasn’t, and his father’s comments supporting him showed a particular streak of unrepentant defiance running through both of them.

    It will play well to the conservative and Evangelical crowds… “Boy Suspended for Wearing Jesus T-shirt!”, but the headlines and sound bites will gloss over the root problem – his desire to be a disruptive influence in the school.

  25. Holopupenko says:

    A gracious response, Sault… and I apologize for missing your intention.

  26. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegman: Do you not think there is such a thing as Christian Privilege?

    I would put in the same category as the “Coming Theocracy” that is always supposed to be coming. My point is that Sault had no evidence to back up his personal belief that so-called “Christian Privilege” is in play with this example.

    In The States, for example, if one person wore the t-shirt in question, and another wore one saying “Life is WASTED believing in Jesus,” do you think they would be treated equally by the students, or the school?

    Who knows? It would probably depend on the person, place, and time. You don’t help yourself with an imaginary anecdote – you would need lots of non-cherrypicked data points that show a pattern.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    To everything, spin, spin, spin,
    There is a season spin, spin…

    (With apologies to Dylan and the Byrds).

    You can spin things as imaginatively as you want, for example,

    It will play well to the conservative and Evangelical crowds… “Boy Suspended for Wearing Jesus T-shirt!”, but the headlines and sound bites will gloss over the root problem – his desire to be a disruptive influence in the school.

    That’s imaginative, as I said, but it’s not proved. It could easily be that he first wanted to make the actual statement he was making: Life is wasted without Jesus. And it could be that when that got him suspended, he wanted to make a point that being suspended for that was unjust. To clarify: his motive at that point could have been justice, not disruptiveness.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’re right. But maybe not.

    Not long ago you wrote, “What an incredible statement! What is your evidence that this is true?” I take it you believe statements should be supported by evidence.

    But you have nailed down the “root problem” based on your own creative interpretation. I think you’re wrong, by the way. But I know you can’t claim you are right.

  28. Sault says:

    “The board suspended Swinimer for five days when he refused to stop wearing the T-shirt. It said some students and teachers found the slogan offensive.”

    “He wore the T-shirt every day to class for several weeks, even after the principal told him repeatedly to stop wearing it.” source

    “Varrick Day of Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Bridgewater, N.S., said William Swinimer has been challenged by his school for more than a year for speaking out about his faith.” source

    ‘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.’ source

    …..

    So, d and I are right. Pattern of disruptive behavior, wanting to be a martyr for his cause, etc.

    In other words, instead of the school wanting to protect its students from the t-shirt’s message, they were trying to protect them from the t-shirt’s wearer.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    In view of that further information I’ll concede. Good research on your part.

    I have to say I’m not convinced all the sources you’ve quoted are credible. If he really did tell people to go to hell, that would be really wrong, but I’m skeptical whether he did that.

    If he was warning people about the dangers of hell, that could be done in a variety of manners, some of which are more offensive and some of which are less so. For my part I think it’s very appropriate to sound that warning, but it’s not appropriate to say it repeatedly when you’ve been asked not to. It sends a contradictory message to the one you’re trying to convey.

    Sounds to me, from this distance away, like he might not have had a clear picture of how to communicate the truth in love. But that’s from a distance, relying only on snatches of information as my source material.

  30. Sault says:

    In view of that further information I’ll concede. Good research on your part.

    Thank you.

    I have to say I’m not convinced all the sources you’ve quoted are credible. If he really did tell people to go to hell, that would be really wrong, but I’m skeptical whether he did that.

    We don’t have all the information. I went through almost a dozen different news reports before I was able to scrap together enough facts to be able to quote what is above. I don’t believe that I engaged in confirmation bias, as the quotes are all from the people involved. Different news sources all seem to report different angles and none of them have all of the details.

    Due to the nature of the incident, we will never have all of the information, and the truth may not be what the quotes above seem to indicate. All that we can do is try to scrounge as much information as we can and make the most informed decision based on that evidence that we are able to find.

    For my part I think it’s very appropriate to sound that warning, but it’s not appropriate to say it repeatedly when you’ve been asked not to.

    I actually agree. I favor an open dialogue and rational discussion – put all the facts on the table and try to draw the best conclusions. What is difficult is that it is easy to engage in “spin”, logical fallacies, and pleas to emotions – we’ve all done it, it is a quality of people and not of one “side” or the other. On topics like same-sex marriage, if someone (like me) has a great deal of emotion invested in the topic, it can make it extremely difficult to remain objective.

    I suppose the Christian term would be “discernment”… you have to try to separate the wheat from the chaff, and that’s damn hard on the Internet especially. And sometimes the information takes time to come out, and that doesn’t help any.

    I don’t think that it is reasonable to describe his actions as “Christian privilege”, as I alleged earlier, but I would like to believe that he had good intentions. His actions were inappropriate and (appear to have been) counterproductive.

    I wonder if this was a learning opportunity for him… I somewhat doubt it. Some people feel that they are validated when their controversial and provocative beliefs provoke negative reactions from those around them, ie “I’m being persecuted – I must be right!”

  31. Sault says:

    This actually plays very well into your other topic about education. If we don’t understand the “other side” then we can’t have a common dialogue, and we end up just yelling at each other. If we don’t know how to speak, or what to say, or why we say it… well, our attempts to communicate will likely fail.

  32. Mike Gene says:

    In view of that further information I’ll concede. Good research on your part.

    Agreed. I just wish the school officials had made it clear it was about more than the t-shirt. After all, what if he did write on his t-shirt and return to exhibit the exact same type of behavior?

  33. Sheila says:

    This is what I’m thinking:

    “I really don’t care if you’re an atheist just don’t say so on a T-shirt — because if I see it on your shirt I’ll be scarred for life.”

    Is that it?

    Glad we got that straight… :)

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