A Canadian student was prepared to sacrifice his school year after his principal ordered him to stop wearing a “Life is wasted without Jesus” T-shirt to school, The Canadian Press reported.
However, after a meeting late Friday, William Swinimer won't face further discipline if he wears the yellow shirt to Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia, on Monday.
After already serving a five-day suspension for defying his principal, Swinimer said he faced studying at home until the end of the school year if he wore it again.
School officials and Swinimer met with a mediator on Friday, and struck a deal to allow the 19-year-old Grade 12 student to wear the shirt if he wants, GlobalNews said.
"The T-shirt is not what matters anymore," school superintendant Nancy Pynch-Worthylake said, GlobalNews reported. "It is very important that we move away from a narrow debate about a slogan or message on a T-shirt and on to a broader discussion of how to express our beliefs in a respectful manner and how we deal with concerns about that message."
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Swinimer is a member of Jesus the Good Shepherd Pentecostal church, and said Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows him to express his views, CTV News said.
“The only reason I’m wearing the T-shirt continually now is because I’m standing up for my rights as a Canadian citizen,” he told CTV.
However, students at the school complained to the principal because they said Swinimer pushes his religious views on them.
“I’m an atheist myself and I’m kind of offended because he’s basically stating that my life is wasted without Jesus,” Grade 11 student Niall Barkes told CTV. “It’s just not a fair statement at all, and I think the reason for him getting suspended is reasonable.”
Swinimer received support from fellow churchgoers, and also an unusual source, The Herald-News reported.
The Centre for Inquiry – a Canadian atheist and agnostic group – is backing his right to wear the T-shirt.
“We have consistently defended free speech rights for groups regardless of our agreement on message, including Muslim and Christian ads in public space and censored pro-life debates on campus,” the group’s spokesman, Justin Trottier, told The Herald-News.
The provincial government wasn’t as convinced.
Much of the controversy surrounds the T-shirt’s negative message, and education officials suggested Swinimer should wear something with a more positive phrase.
Furthermore, they said, the suspension resulted because Swinimer went directly against an order from the principal.
“I’m very appreciative of the leadership of the superintendent,” Nova Scotia Education Minister Ramona Jennex told CTV.
The boy’s pastor and a local businessman said they would print 100 of the T-shirts in hopes others wear them to support Swinimer, CTV said.
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