A school in Nova Scotia suspended a student for five days because he wore a shirt that said “Life Is Wasted Without Jesus.”

The South Shore Regional School Board suspended William Swinimer from Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin for five days for wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words, “Life is wasted without Jesus.”

School board Supt. Nancy Pynch-Worthylake said the wording on the shirt is problematic because it is directed at the beliefs of others.

“If I have an expression that says ‘My life is enhanced with Jesus,’ then there’s no issue with that, everybody is able to quickly understand that that’s my opinion about my own belief,” she said.

I do see that as a distinction with a difference, but it’s a rather murky terrain.

Jonathan McLoed argues thusly:

That’s some nice hair-splitting Ms. Pynch-Worthylake is attempting, but it demonstrates an ignorance towards Mr. Swiminer’s faith. Christianity is, certainly, an incredibly personal faith, but it is not introverted and it is not weak. The message of the t-shirt is a universal declaration. It is unequivocal, but it is not pointed.

Granted, the shirt did not say “My life would be wasted without Jesus” but rather that life in general is. That can easily be taken as suggesting that your life would be wasted without Jesus. And so there can be a little provocation construed there. Having said that, the ambiguity involved does not lend itself to an ideal situation for administrative discretion. They might be more willing to pull the trigger in some cases and not in others. They might see one instance through the prism of tolerance to the wearer, and the other through the prism of intolerance to people other than the wearer, even when they are essentially the same thing. James Hanley argues in the comments to McLoed’s post:

Yes, that’s what it’s saying to those students. And a student saying “Jesus is not real” is making a clear statement against the Christian kid’s life.

And both T-Shirts ought to be allowed.

Both should, or neither should. You can argue that “Jesus is not real” is a statement of belief not directed at anyone else, but it makes an implicit statement every bit as much as the Wasted shirt does. Murky.

It’s hard to say whether the administration is in error with this ban without knowing how they would respond to similar messages from other groups. What’s not hard to say is that regardless of their decision, they suspended the kid for five days. At my old school, you could punch someone in the face and be suspended for fewer than five days. I want to know what sort of mediation was tried here. This comes across not as conflict alleviation, but punitive action. I am not certain why they couldn’t have simply said “each and every day you wear that shirt, you are suspended for the rest of the day.”

Category: Church, School

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