Last week William Swinimer, a Grade 12 student was suspended from his Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia for five days. The offense? Wearing a T-shirt that read Life is Wasted without Jesus. Swinimer wore the shirt for several weeks and ignored requests from his Principal to refrain from doing so. Finally, the Principal suspended him for 5 days in hopes that he would come to class the next week wearing something else. (For the record, no teen should ever wear the same T-shirt for several weeks regardless of what it says on it. It is possible he was sent home for a week in hopes the shirt would at least go into the laundry. Just a thought.)
When Swinimer returns to school Monday he plans to continue wearing the shirt every day, and is even willing to risk not graduating with his fellow students if that is what it takes to stand up for his freedom of expression. The main offence according to the School Board is how the slogan is worded. If the shirt said. MY life is wasted without Jesus, they say that would be acceptable. Their claim is that the shirt can be interpreted as being a slight against other’s faiths or those of no faith at all. Swinimer insists that that is not at all his intent and has no ill-will or criticism against non-Christians. He merely claims it is his constitutional right to express his faith and he is not going to comply with the school or school board’s requests.
Before we go any further with this we do need to ask the question if the slogan in question is indeed offensive or not. I think the best way of doing that is by simply wording it from the perspective of other faiths, and then asking ourselves if we are offended. Let’s try it. If I saw a Muslim wearing the T-shirt, Life is wasted without Muhammad, I would consider that an expression of his faith and not take any personal offence. Although I do not agree with the sentiment it certainly does not incite hatred or violence. A T-shirt that reads Death to the Infidel on the other hand is in a whole different category. Let’s try a few others. Life is wasted without Buddha. Sure, why not? Life is wasted without Krishna. Fine. Life is wasted without Darwin. Whatever. Life is wasted without Led Zeppelin. I hear ya. Life is wasted without Abba. Getting close to the line. Life is wasted without Charlie Sheen. We should be so lucky.
No, I think most would agree that the Principal and the school board are off side on this one. If the T-shirt simply said Let’s get Wasted we would not even be having this debate. What is really at issue is the new intolerance. The intolerance of tolerance. Those that claim that they want to ban the T-shirt in the name of tolerance, are they themselves being intolerant. The fact probably remains that if Swinimer was wearing any one of the other T Shirt slogans I mentioned he would still be in school. It is only because he was wearing a Christian T Shirt that he became a victim of the Tolerance police.
In our culture today you cannot (and should not) criticize anyone’s religion, but Christianity is fair game. It has become open season on Christians. We routinely get called hatemongers, bigots, homophobes, racists etc. All without cause or evidence. Nobody cries foul, nobody gets censured when it is done in the media or in the public square. Christianity is without question the most persecuted religion in the world. Michael Horowitz, a U.S. Jewish activist who has written on Christian persecution contends there is a “blissful lack of awareness to this fact that is fostered by preconceptions and conventional wisdoms that lead many in the West to dismiss anti-Christian persecution as improbable, untrue, impossible.”
Horowitz is right. We have been told for so long that we are the persecutors we have failed to realize that we have become the persecuted. For the most part we sit quietly by as our faith is attacked form every side. The media paints us intolerant, hate filled, religious zealots who are against women and gays and drinkers and gamblers and prostitutes and just about anyone that wants to have a good time. Science portrays us as ignorant, uneducated peons that blindly follow mindless fables. Radical leftists like to attack us as being war mongers and greedy capitalists that hate the environment and health care. Others think we are so gullible that we are lead by manipulative hucksters that are just after our money so they can buy themselves Rolls Royses. Everyday the impression of who we are becomes further and further away from the Christ following lovers of humanity that want to give every person an opportunity to hear the good news that God loves them and has secured a glorious place in eternity for them. So when I see a 17 year old High School student in Nova Scotia that says, “No, I will not be stripped of my right to religious freedom”, I say… good for you William, I am behind you all the way.