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NS teen ‘defiantly’ wears “Life is Wasted Without Jesus” shirt despite suspensions (Updated)

It’s a National Post two-fer today, I guess, but I simply couldn’t pass this story up. On top of the local element, there are all the elements of a passion play in this story. Think about it — a young and pious martyr suffering through bullying at the hands of heathenistic school officials who are so milquetoast as to think his “Life is Wasted Without Jesus” t-shirt might be deemed offensive by those vile sinners who are simply trying to live life without His glory.

For the past six months, a yellow T-shirt with the slogan “Life is Wasted Without Jesus” has been just another shirt in William Swinimer’s wardrobe.

Lately, the 19-year-old Nova Scotian has worn it every single day since the vice-principal at his high school told him he couldn’t, that it was considered offensive, that it spewed, in his own words, “hate talk.”

Instead of peeling the shirt off like they wanted him to, Mr. Swinimer continued to wear it — straight through a series of in-school suspensions and straight through the five-day at-home suspension he’s currently serving.

[...]
The school board issued a statement clarifying that “students may choose to wear clothing that embraces their beliefs. However, it is expected that students will not wear clothing with messages that may offend others’ beliefs, race, religion, culture or lifestyle.”

And therein lies the problem. If the shirt said “My life was wasted without Jesus”, that’s significantly different — it’s an expression of assessment (incorrect though it might be) of his own spiritual life. As it stands, it is an expression of judgment of others, where anyone who isn’t a Christian is a “wasted life”. So Swinimer’s objection that others have worn “Hail Satan” shirts is simply invalid — while such a shirt might be offensive to someone who both believes in Satan and thinks Satan is evil, that reflects only on the person wearing the shirt, NOT on everyone who ISN’T.

Swinimer’s ‘defiance’ is martyrdom, and it’s self-righteous and judgmental martyrdom at that. He is expressing identical sentiments to those folks who say “you’ll go to hell if you don’t repent, and I’ll laugh about it”.

If I have any readers in Chester Basin, I’d provisionally encourage you to get a t-shirt that says “Life is Wasted With Religion” or “With Jesus”, or “Life is Wasted Without the Flying Spaghetti Monster” or some other deity, to test the school’s resolve. Assuming, of course, you can do it without getting beaten up too badly. Any of my proffered t-shirts should be equally rejected — which would put an end to the martyrdom in a hurry, I’d hope. And what’s worse is, they would make you a target for real bullying. Nothing says “I’m the REAL martyr” like getting beaten up for wearing a shirt that pisses off the holier-than-thou crowd.

T-shirts that pass judgment on others are a form of bigotry. While it’s okay to be bigoted against the bigoted, e.g. “homophobes suck”, “end racism”, etc., sentiments that demand that you adhere to a specific religion are anathema to discourse. Especially if they argue for the largest denomination of residents, expressly against the minorities of Hindus, Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, et cetera ad infinitum.

Update:
So apparently the kid’s allowed to wear the shirt and any such expressions of faith will not be an issue for the school, no matter how hateful they are to others. The National Post is leaving it up, I’m guessing, to perpetuate the “Christians are OH SO OPPRESSED” meme, contra the facts of the matter.

So, if Chester Basin happens to house a single atheist who can fend for themselves in a fist fight, how about wearing that “Life is wasted with religion” t-shirt to demonstrate exactly who’s being bullied?

Update 2:
To clarify, I’m not saying he shouldn’t be allowed to wear the shirt, or that choice of t-shirts is anything but a free speech issue, though I’d reserve the right to judge people as bigoted assholes for wearing bigoted asshole shirts.

This school, however, is on the hook for Canada’s hate speech laws — which I categorically oppose — if it didn’t at least try to resolve the issue of potentially offending every minority religious view in this situation. I think a decent solution to the problem (though one that compounds the issue, in a way) is setting an explicit dress code that is applied fairly — e.g., no clothing with any text whatsoever — to do an end run around the problem. Or, even, as a subversive way to register a sort of protest against the speech-squelching nature of these hate speech laws.

I understand Ed will have more to say on the freedom of speech aspect of this. It’s just that, in this case, it’s the punching-down that bugs the hell out of me about Swinimer’s sanctimonious martyrdom.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh FFS. So I can see ONE good reason — to continue the “Christians are oppressed” meme.

    Except for the fact that you would almost certainly get beat up for it, at least now the school would not suspend someone for wearing a “Life is wasted with religion” t-shirt.

  2. physioprof says

    If you believe in the primacy of free speech and free religious expression over the hurt feelings of others, the kidde *should* be allowed to wear the fucken shirt. It is far from hate speech, is not oppressing anyone, and is in the heart of any robust view of freedom of speech and religion.

  3. says

    Never said I don’t, physioprof. Nor did I say the kid shouldn’t be allowed wear it (providing they’re willing to accept being anathema to discourse, or at least judged for the sanctimonious asses they are). It’s the punching-down that bugs the crap outta me first and foremost, as I just explained to Ed on Facebook.

    Chester Basin is very local to me — and it’s very predominantly Christian. Any “bullying” he’s gotten was most likely of the “stop bullying others” kind. The fact that the National Post blew this up into a full-out “assault on Christianity” is ridiculous, because any similar shirts from atheists would have gotten the kid suspended and probably beaten up, the shirt burned, and no press whatsoever.

    As it stands, the root issue is the ridiculous hate speech laws Canada has on the books. The school pretty much had to say something or run the risk of running afoul those laws. As it stands, if there are any atheists or Muslims or what-have-you that are offended, the school could be on the hook for having allowed the shirt. Chances are, there will be no such movement, because anyone non-Christian in Chester Basin is probably going to be silent about this.

  4. says

    I dunno. I’m still not sure this shirt qualifies as hate speech. Obnoxious speech? Yup. Annoying, smug speech? Hell, yeah. If I was in school with him, would I have thought seriously about punching him? You know it.

    But somebody saying “your life is wasted” isn’t exactly the worst insult I’ve ever faced in my life. I can’t really see that it creates a more hostile atmosphere than probably already exists if you’ve got kids like that in your school!

    The shirt doesn’t say “If you’ve wasted your life without Jesus, I hate you.” It doesn’t say “People who’ve wasted their lives without Jesus should die.” And so on and so forth.

  5. Sas says

    I wish we would all just go to school uniforms to eliminate bullshit manufactured problems like this.

  6. says

    Despite all the people making free speech claims I don`t know that I have a problem with the schools actions banning the shirt as long as it was something that was applied properly. A school particularly a non uni or colleges are something everyone has to go to and I don`t see a big reason why a fairly handled dress code would be a problem.

  7. Skip White says

    Is 19 a normal high school age in Canada? Because in the U.S., that tends to imply one was held back a grade.

  8. says

    I love these gems from this story – http://www.ottawasun.com/2012/05/07/parents-pull-jesus-shirt-teen-from-school

    “The Halifax Chronicle-Herald reports John Swinimer stormed across the parking lot, announced he was pulling his son out of school, waved a copy of the New Testament at reporters and refused to answer questions.”

    and it looks like there are a few answering him back:

    “”This thing never was about a shirt … He’s telling kids they’ll burn in hell if they don’t confess themselves to Jesus,” Grade 10 student Riley Gibb-Smith said, sporting a white T-shirt with the words “No life is wasted” written in black marker.

  9. says

    Neeroc: amazing that the “other side” of this story is pretty much only being reported nationally in the Sun, of all places. I’ll have to try to find the Chronicle Herald article to see what else they have to say.

  10. says

    If this is legally hate speech, then the term has been so debased as to be useless. It’s “I’m a smug asshole who thinks he knows what’s best for everyone else” speech, but hate speech? Nah — it’s no worse than The God Delusion as a book title (to say nothing of the contents!). I’m happy to have evangelical twits tell me that I’m wasting my life without their god, and my response is to jeeringly reply in kind (and I see that’s what some of the other kids are doing, and good for them). If the school finds that’s creating a charged atmosphere, then they can ban “controversial” T-shirts altogether (assuming they can come up with a reasonable and fair definition thereof).

  11. says

    As I put in my second update, Eamon Knight, I’d say the only way to be “fair” about it would be to ban all text (maybe short of brand names) on clothing.

    The whole hate speech issue has to come to a public reckoning, and if it takes a Christian bully climbing up onto the cross to put it into the national crosshairs, so be it.

    Apparently a national atheists group, among other groups, has defended Swinimer’s wearing the shirt. This is, of course, good for short-term freedom of speech, but doesn’t address the underlying hate speech laws.

  12. says

    Nah, I think CFI qualifies as “atheist” (I’m heavily involved locally in Ottawa).

    That bit in the C-H article about it being hate speech to tell someone else their beliefs are wrong? In a school? Screw that. Yes, there are legitimate reasons (in certain environments) for requiring that it be done politely, but to forbid it altogether is another example of how religion is exempted from criticism. And high school is plenty old enough to begin the rough-and-tumble of debating real issues.

  13. karmakin says

    This one had me pretty deep in facebook trying to explain to people what exactly was wrong with that shirt.

    The approach that seemed to work to explain to people, was that this kid is probably just a puppet of his pastor, the kid probably doesn’t understand the meaning of what his shirt says, and the pastor is the one who should be sitting him down and explaining that a positive message is better than a negative one.

    That said, the troubling thing here is how many people simply don’t understand WHY that shirt is offensive. Which isn’t too surprising, I find the most people don’t really take their religion seriously, especially around here. They’re just little more than vague words that don’t really mean very much. So when they run into a group that DOES take it seriously, they don’t know how to react.

  14. karmakin says

    One more thing. The problem we’re going to have to deal with as atheists, in both Canada and the US, is how do we tackle the problem of religious foundations that are inherently what we would call “hate speech”. If you don’t believe X, you’re a worthless person. That’s basically what this shirt said, after all.

    The thing is that there was a sort of a unofficial peace treaty, that nobody would talk about the negative aspects and focus on the positive. I strongly believe that it was our rising existence that “broke” the treaty. It’s not anything we did or do. It’s simply the fact that people without divine belief exist. It’s why you see situations like this happening more and more.

  15. James Carey says

    This maks me long for the days when I went to school wearing my Iron Maiden “666 The Number of the Beast” t-shirt…

  16. Jerb says

    In re Karmakin:

    “The approach that seemed to work to explain to people, was that this kid is probably just a puppet of his pastor, the kid probably doesn’t understand the meaning of what his shirt says, and the pastor is the one who should be sitting him down and explaining that a positive message is better than a negative one.”

    I can utter a one-name response to this–Jessica Ahlquist. Teenagers are not mindless robots who follow their adult masters. And adults are not necessarily people who think for themselves. The automatic assupmtion that this guy is just parroting an adult in his life is as offensive now as it was when it was blasted around Rhode Island during the Ahlquist case.

    Kids in high school (especially the last two years) are nearing the legal age at which they may vote, sign up for the military, smoke cigarettes, chose where or if they will attain further education, sign up for the military,etc., etc. Is it so far out of the realm of public debate to see someone in their late teens and think, just once, maybe that person made a conscious choice to espouse such a viewpoint?

  17. FredBloggs says

    I’d have no problem WHATSOEVER with him wearing this t-shirt as long as I can stand alongside him with a t-shirt saying “I’m with twatface”.

    Free speech is important.

  18. says

    The problem with a school is that it is in fact a workplace, not only for teachers but also for students.
    Therefore it is OK to impose limits on free speech to make it a safe place for everybody who has to go there and that includes that other people don’t go all religious on you.

    But since everybody can wear whatever T-shirt they like I propose to have some fun:
    “Oh Jesus, last weekend I got wasted”
    “On good days I manage 6 out f 7 deadly sins”
    “Jesus, so you’ve got at least one friend – even if he’s imaginary”

  19. says

    Oh, aren’t you a charmer, FredBloggs. See, that’s the thing. They can either say “no vulgarities” or make it a free-for-all. And if it’s a free-for-all, then you’ll be judged for your providing a chilly climate for owners of twats everywhere.

  20. says

    This story reminds me of a somewhat similar issue that I had when I was in High School.

    I went to school in Ontario during the Common Sense Revolution era of Mike Harris. He was a douchey Premier we had who insisted that teachers were spoiled brats feeding at the public teet. We had two strikes during my tenure as a student- one faculty strike and one support staff (custodians, etc.) strike.

    At the time I was a member of the Progressive Conservative Youth Wing (Mike Harris’ party)- a fact of which I’m none too proud in retrospect. The support staff would come to school every day wearing OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employee Union) t-shirts to express solidarity during a contract dispute, and a couple of my buddies and I decided that we would push the envelope and wear our PC Youth shirts to school in protest. I was pulled down to the Principals office and told that I had to turn my shirt inside out for the rest of the day and never wear it again, and I said I would- as long as the support staff did the same. We argued for several minutes, during which time I was threatened with suspension more than once (and I threatened to talk to my MPP and the newspaper more than once)- and the Principal suggested that once I was in a union I would understand why it is acceptable to wear union t-shirts at work. I forced the issue and the teacher told the custodians that I would stop wearing the shirt if they no longer wore their union shirts. The next year we had a very extensive description of what is appropriate for wearing at school. Heavy Metal T-shirts? Banned. Political statements? Banned.

    The funny thing about this story is that someone the year before wore a T-shirt that said “Silly Faggot, Dicks are for Chicks” and since nobody complained, he was never asked to take it off.

  21. Rich Wilson says

    In my tiny BC school in the early 80s, the principal HATED alcohol, and his one thing was Beer shirts. I don’t think he ever actually pushed for an official rule on it, and although people would occasionally wear something with an alcohol message, he managed to convince them to not wear it again without making them turn it inside out on that day.

    I worse my Judas Priest shirt all the time with no issue.

  22. James Carey says

    Judas Priest shirts are fine, just don’t get caught playing their records backwards. lol

  23. says

    I love that if the school wants to have a voluntary discussion about how to talk about your religious beliefs that’s too much for this guy but going around telling kids they need to accept jesus or go to hell is fine. So thin skinned these christians.

  24. karmakin says

    @Jerb: This has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with him being a kid. This has everything to do with people in our society who think that religion is nothing more than a competition that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s something that happens to people of all ages, walks of life AND beliefs.

    The pastor should know better because he’s the one that’s being paid to think about all this. But no, my feeling is that most people give their actual religious beliefs little more than a cursory glance, it’s a tribal marker, nothing more, nothing less.

    Maybe the kid did want to say that everybody not of his particular belief structure is worthless. However, I doubt that, to be honest.

  25. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    I just hope the kids laundering it if he’s wearing it every day. Or that he has a whole closet full of them. Otherwise, PHEW!

    I think it’s great that he’s willing to publicize the fact that he’s a holier than thou jerk. Saves everyone else the trouble of having to dig to find out.

  26. fredbloggs says

    @Jason Thibeault

    “Oh, aren’t you a charmer” – thanks – it has been said before, but it’s nice to have it reiterated.

    Regarding the use of the word “twat”. Two possible definitions which are relevant here:

    1. the female genitals
    2. a foolish or despicable person

    My definition is 2. (in part because I never use definition 1)

    Yours appears to be definition 2 (unless you really meant “you’ll be judged for your providing a chilly climate for owners of foolish or despicable persons everywhere.”)

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but definition 1 for “twat” is rarely used in UK English anymore.

  27. Chris LaVesser says

    1. Who said any of us have the right not to be offended?
    2. Doesn’t his shirt really just say, “I’m a credulous idiot”?

    If this kid was beating up non-christians on the playground, then we’d have a problem. But just because his shirt says non-christians are wasting their lives doesn’t mean anyone’s rights have been violated.

    I have a shirt that says “Your Stupid”, which observant folks will recognize makes tongue-in-cheek fun at people with low grammar and spelling skills. Have I violated the rights of the stupid by wearing it?

  28. says

    Chris LaVesser: there’s a hell of a lot more to it than just the t-shirt, but you’re right, there’s no crime in wearing a stupid and offensive t-shirt. You might want to read this follow-up though.

    FredBloggs: if the people you’re communicating with mistake the definition of the word you’re using, because you’re talking to people from another culture where one definition is predominant, the fault in poor communication is yours. The word is still not divorced from the old meaning though, even in the UK. Just because it’s used more as “idiot” doesn’t mean it didn’t originate as meaning a human vulva.

  29. Happiestsadist says

    I’ll also add that that “kid” is legally able to drink, smoke, get married, join the army, buy or be in porn, sign a contract and drive in all provinces.

    Also, what Jerb said.

  30. Fionnabhair says

    The shirt slogan I thought up was “Life is wasted in church.” Which is a true statement.

  31. glenmorangie10 says

    I said the same thing in reply to Ed’s post. This case has nothing to do with the hate speech provisions of the Code. I think you’re letting your own interest in that legislation colour your reading of this story. I’ve seen no evidence that the school acted out of its concern that it is “on the hook for Canada’s hate speech laws”.

    A quick scan of s. 319, more particularly 319(3)(b), establishes that “No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2) … (b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text”. Even if the Criminal Code was part of the school’s considerations, they could pretty quickly determine that this was not “hate speech” under the Criminal Code. A school should be much more immediately concerned with the Human Rights Act and the Charter.

  32. says

    glenmorgaine10: you really should read the follow-up, because the situation is not just about the t-shirt. The t-shirt was where the school made their stand, and they chose poorly, but the situation was much bigger than this.

    And as I said over at Ed’s post on this (here), yes, that linking-in of the hate speech law was my own, not anything that any of the national reporting covered. While I was unaware that there was a provision explicitly allowing for religiously motivated bigotry (e.g., it’s not illegal hate speech if you really believe it), I am still absolutely certain that that law’s existence contributes in no small part to the chilling effect of people being overly cautious about intolerance of others. Without that law, I suspect the school board would not have had as much motivation to (fail in their attempt to) squelch Swinimer’s bigoted, Jesus-inspired nonsense.

  33. glenmorangie10 says

    I had read the follow-up, and have followed the story as it progressed (we don’t get that many local angle stories of this type). I wasn’t commenting on the issue in general, just disagreeing with your suggestion that hate speech laws were at the heart of it. I wouldn’t have thought it was important, except that Ed went so much further to make this a hate speech test case.

    And don’t get me wrong. I think that the Code provisions need to be revoked completely or significantly revised. However, I don’t agree that they play as significant a role in these sorts of decisions as you apparently do. The Human Rights Act, the angry words of students and their parents, and public opinion speak more directly to school administrations, and have a much more immediate impact on their decisions.

  34. says

    “Life is wasted without Jesus” : This is freedom of speech. I do not care if it offends you nor anyone else. It is ‘Freedom of Speech”; so get use to it.
    I am offended by the ‘Crucifix’. Do you want to put an end to People wearing it?!
    ‘Jesus’ – This word is not English nor Greek; it is ‘Latin’. It come from a ‘contraction’ of two Greek words; ‘Jehovah Salvation'(Jehovah is Greek; God is English; Yahweh is Hebrew; Allah is Arabic), and it is written in the ‘Vulgate’ as Jesus. This word became common through all of Europe and its many languages.
    Freedom is not; -“do not offend’, but accept others ideas as equal to your own, even when you disagree with them.
    You may not agree with what I wrote, (being correct), but you must agree that I have a right to write it.
    – John A. Clark
    [email protected]

  35. Atwas911 says

    Good.. Put him on the terrorist watch list.

    Showing early signs of extremist behavior.

    Life is wasted without Jesus? So those who do not choose to follow his particular delusion are wasting their life? Perhaps they are unfit to live? I think a good long look should be taken into the family life of this youth and see just what kind of abusive hate filled programming this child has been receiving.

    100% Serious about the watch list.. mark my words..

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