A missed opportunity

John Swinimer took what might be described as a belligerent attitude during media interviews today as he pulled his son, William, out of Forest Heights Community School. See story here.

Offered an olive branch by the South Shore School Board, his actions, tone and words are very un-Christian and indicate that this dispute is unlikely to be resolved. I certainly hope I’m wrong about that, however.

Mr. Swinimer claims that his children are bullied in the school because they are Christians. If that’s the case, it should stop. But as the story by Bev Ware of the Chronicle-Herald indicates, there are also some valid concerns about William Swinimer’s behaviour at the school. If the actions described by the other students are true, that behaviour should also stop. Bev is a former colleague of mine and is an excellent reporter; kudos to her for getting more details and providing some vital insight to this story.

An honest and candid exchange of ideas that are not offensive to others lies at the very heart of freedom of expression. Shame on anyone who wouldn’t want to participate in that.

The Jesus T-shirt

A student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Lunenburg County, has been suspended for wearing a T-shirt that says: “Life is wasted without Jesus.” (See story here.)

Asking the student to remove the shirt did not work and William Swinimer has defiantly refused to comply with the request to not wear it to school. (See story here.)

The Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party today called on Education Minister Ramona Jennex to intervene and overturn the decision of the South Shore School Board to suspend the student. To support their argument, the Tories cite Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
But the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are not absolute and this is an important factor in this case. Section 1 of the Charter establishes that there are limits.
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The term “reasonable limits” is the crux of the debate. Some have argued that this T-shirt’s message is possibly hate speech or, at the very least, is disrespectful of other religions and should be curtailed. This is not merely a declaration of faith by a Christian, it is a condemnation of non-Christians.

As my old constitutional law professor used to say in class: “The right to swing one’s fist ends at another person’s face.”

I can’t help but wonder whether we would be having this same debate if a student wore a T-shirt to school that read: “Life is wasted without Allah.”

I’m not a devotee of any religion, but I support religious freedoms for those of every faith. This T-shirt crosses the line, though, and I do not condone intolerance of other religions.