The story I mentioned yesterday has another twist. But first, I need to set a few things straight.
Everything about William Swinimer’s “defiant” wearing of the t-shirt that calls non-Christian lives “wasted” smacks of martyrdom to me. In a very small township like Chester Basin, in a school where most of the population is Christian and of the less than tolerant kind, Swinimer’s exhortations that he’s doing it to stand up to the bullies smacks not only of hyperbole but of outright fabrication. My first instinct when I read this story was not to once again assign blame for the situation on the ridiculous hate speech laws Canada has to suffer (which, yes, this case does have that fatal flaw at its core), but rather to lament that the school board completely mishandled this case and let it spiral out of control, taking action at the least-actionable offense to their, and all of our, detriment. This led to some misunderstandings about my feelings in comments and on Facebook, but they’ve evidently since been cleared up.
There’s a lot more to the story than the National Post discussed, though. For instance, via CBC, apparently William’s father John pulled him out of classes on the same day he was supposed to return from his suspension, wearing the probably rank t-shirt and all, when all students were scheduled to be able to participate in voluntary sessions on how to discuss religion without being disrespectful of others. Evidently William could have opted out, but his father opted him right the hell out of school altogether.
But John Swinimer said he wants Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Lunenburg County, to only teach the basic courses, leaving religion out of it.
“He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old-fashioned academics,” he said, waving a New Testament bible. “When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra-curricular activity, he will not attend that school.”
What’s more, the CBC reports that the t-shirt itself isn’t really what ultimately pretty much wrecked any semblance of academia at the school while this religiously-inspired three-ring circus is running its course.
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.
This wasn’t just a case of trying to abridge his right to free speech by telling him to stop wearing a shirt (for weeks on end). If it was just about the t-shirt, the school board wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. What was actually happening was the repeated disruption of academics while William turned the school into his own personal witnessing platform, to everyone’s detriment.
The shirt was just the least-actionable of his disruptive influences, and the school administration incorrectly handled his religious bullying by trying to nail him on something that they could never win on. They did not deal with the situation early on. But frankly, as long as his father’s willing to put proselytization over academics, William’s honestly the only one who will suffer from his absence from the school.