Canadian Student Suspended for “Jesus” T-Shirt – UPDATED

Watch out, Americans:  This story may be coming to a high school near you.

William Swiminer, a 12-grade student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been suspended for a second time for wearing a T-shirt which mentioned the name of Jesus.  The “offensive” yellow shirt actually reads “Life is wasted without Jesus.” 

Swiminer knew, after the first suspension, that he was jeopardizing his academic standing, and that a second suspension could prevent him from graduating with his class.  He felt strongly, though, that he had a Constitutional right to free speech, and he continued to wear the shirt which his father had purchased while on a trip to the United States.

“I’m not against other people’s religions,” he said, “but I want to have the right to express my own opinions and my own beliefs … and that’s why I wear the T-shirt.”

The problem could be solved if Swiminer were to, say, hand-write the word “MY” near the shirt collar.  School Board Superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, quoted in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, explained that the T-shirt could be offensive to those with other beliefs.  “If it said ‘My Life is Wasted Without Jesus,’ that would be fine,” said Pynch-Worthylake, “because that would be more personal.”   



Swiminer will return to the classroom on Monday, May 7; and once again, he will be wearing the shirt.  Pynch-Worthylake now says that “it was never about the shirt,” but rather, about how to express one’s beliefs without offending others.

The story should continue to grab headlines this week:  The school plans to hold a series of gatherings for students on Monday to discuss what is appropriate when expressing your convictions, what’s not, and how to deal with things when there’s a conflict.  Officials from government departments will be present.  Following the daytime meetings for students, there will be a 7:00 p.m. meeting for students and their parents. 

Swiminer may return to a sea of yellow shirts:  Varrick Day, pastor of the small independent Pentecostal church which Swiminer attends, promised to print 100 of the T-shirts for other students to wear.  A Bridgewater businessman provided the funding.

The School Board is now consulting with a human rights expert to determine whether Swiminer’s T-shirt message is offensive to people of other faiths.

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UPDATE:   William Swiminer was expected to return to classes on Monday, May 7, after a five-day suspension.  There, he would join other students in a special talk about finding the balance between exercising one’s religious freedom, and respecting others’ rights not to be criticized for their beliefs. 

Instead, he returned only briefly with his father, John Swiminer, who withdrew his son from the school.  The father, carrying a copy of the New Testament, explained to waiting reporters from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“The taxpayer is paying for him to learn his academics as well as the other students and I am not standing for any of this stuff….  He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic, good old-fashioned academics. When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra curricular activities, he will not attend that school.”

District superintendent Nancy Pinch-Worthylake was surprised by Swiminer’s withdrawal from school.  She expressed her disappointment, saying that “We were hoping he would be part of these conversations.”

It remains to be seen whether Swiminer will ever return to the school, or whether he will complete his last year of studies elsewhere.

  • Sue from Buffalo

    The school needs to get over itself and stop being such a weenie.

    • lwestin

      They don’t seem very bright.

  • Ruth Ann Pilney

    My first reaction upon reading the T-shirt was that it would be offensive to those who have different beliefs about God or those of no faith. So often people say such in your face things these days. Do we, as Christians, really mean to say that someone who doesn’t have Jesus in their life is wasting their life? I would hope not. I might say something like, “I believe that my life is meaningful because I have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

    • NorthoftheBorder

      I think there are two issues. One is that of free speech: this is not a pornographic or crude shirt, it shouldn’t have been banned. The second is that objectively (that is ultimately) ones life is wasted without Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”. Now it may not be an attractive way to go about evangelizing people to become Christian (that is being triumphalist or obnoxious about this fact), but if Jesus is God, and He is the only way to get to the Father, which He says He is, then Bob’s your uncle life is wasted without Jesus.

    • Joseph

      Interestingly, if a Muslim wore a t-shirt that said, “Life is Wasted without Allah”, or a Buddist wore a t-shirt that said, “Life is Wasted without Zen”, etc… nothing would have been said about it. I don’t particularly like Evangelical (especially the Pentecostal variety) bible-banging, but this has little to do with “we as Christians” and more to do with “Christians aren’t welcome”.

      • Paul


        • MM

          It’s all around you. It shouldnt’ be hard to see examples of how people are so eager to stand up for other faiths and yet discriminate against Christians.

  • Anthony Esolen

    Who was offended? Nobody, I’m guessing. The young man should instead wear a T-shirt with an English translation of the French “O Canada,” with the verse about her sons carrying the Cross. Let the busybody principal declare the Canadian national anthem offensive.

    • Loud

      Right! I agree. And every U.S. Christian should own a shirt that says:

      “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
      And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.””

      And see the liberals BOIL! Lets see them declare “Star Spangled Banner” to be offensive. I doubt they would recognize it in time to keep their mouths shut.

  • Amy

    Or, change the name of Jesus to Yeshua, or Eashoa, the Hebrew and Aramaic translations. That should confuse and silence the voices of the Extreme.

  • Hermann

    Who cares if people of other religions are offended? i don´t! Because “not being offended” isn´t a right anyway!
    If christioans are offended will they also consult with a human rights expert? I guess not.


  • Ron19

    And everyone knows, members of other Christian and non-Christian faiths or lack of faith identities, never say anything that could be taken as offensive to Catholics.

    Your right to be offended should not trump my right to be offended, and your right to offend does not trump my right to offend, or to be thought offensive..

  • John

    Using this as a point of reference, it could be successfully argued that ANY form of religious expression is offensive and therefore not permissible in a public school setting.

    This would include but not be limited to the following:

    * Crosses of ANY kind (including tatoos)
    * Yin/Yang symbol
    * Star of David
    * Tilaka (worn on the forehead)
    * Burqa and/or hijab
    * Ashes on forehead at the onset of Lent
    * Head coverings of any kind (i.e. Jewish yarmulke, Zarathushtri turban, etc)

    If we’re going to be ‘fair’ then let’s be ‘fair’ to all, not just some. All communists would agree.

    • Ron19

      Any reference to the Bible, Koran, Darwin, Gaia, Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Kama Sutra, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Chavez, Easter Island, Hawaii, Odin, Stonehenge, Druids, Trees, Snakes, Crocodiles, PETA, NRA, AARP, USA, Pyramids, Volcanos, Males, Females, Mecha, La Raza, American Revolution, Columbus, Daughters of the American Revolution, Knights of Columbus, Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, . . .

  • Debbie

    Since when, does the right to NOT be offended, supersede the right to free speech.

    • Michael O.

      When you live in a place without the First Amendment or the rest of the Bill of Rights.

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  • http://g Hezekiah Grxarrett

    Ruth Ann Pilney,

    It’s offensive only to those who want us all to think alike, regardless of religion. Offended has become code for “how dare you have your own thoughts, beliefs, or feelings! ”

    Some of us likely wouldn’t toe the line even if you had a culture worth emulating.

  • Reactor

    “Nancy Pynch-Worthylake”

    That’s downright Dickensian.

  • Jeanne G.

    It seems to me that students and schools would be better off if they just prohibited any clothing with writing (other than school logos). It is clear, no one is offended. I don’t really know how the right to free speech extends to teens in Canada, but I know in the US, you give up rights as part of the social contract of the school code of conduct.

    • Mark H.

      I tend to agree. Most schools have some sort of a dress code that specifies what sort of images or language is allowed on T-shirts. This student’s shirt doesn’t seem offensive to me, but what if he had been from the Westboro Baptist Church, and he had some of their slogans printed on his shirt? Where do you draw the line?
      I personally think the School Board Superintendent’s compromise was reasonable. By writing “My” in front of the slogan he makes it a personal statement and still gets his point across.
      Now if everyone just wore uniforms to school we wouldn’t have these controversies ;)

      • str

        Actually, the superintendent’s “compromise” was not only not reasonable but the bottom of the barrel, as it amounted to “you are free to make a personal statement but WE DECIDE what you are supposed to state!” This is 1984 indeed!

  • Billy Bean

    More proof that the official religion of Canada is Secularism, which means the absolute exclusion of religious expression (read “theism”) in public life. You might believe whatever you wish “in your heart,” but those convictions had better not try to escape into the outside world. Relativism reigns, and it is a hypocritical tyrant. We are developing a similar system here in the U.S.

  • SecretAgentMan

    It naturally follows that if someone believes Z is essential to a happy and productive life, and I don’t have Z, that person will believe that my life is either unhappy and not productive, or less happy and productive than it would be if I also had Z. On that principle the T-Shirt is “offensive.” So is soap advertising, political campaigns, and (by the way) education. Somehow, though, public schools never get around to forbidding students from displaying advertising (like Levi on their blue jeans), never stop hectoring students to “get involved” with political campaigns, and don’t shut themselves down. What’s happening here is a a load of bullsh** designed to persecute Christians and nothing else. I don’t blame his father for sparing the boy from a “re-education and peer-shaming session” that is (paradoxically) straight out of the Handmaid’s Tale.

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  • AlaskanFlyboy

    From Ruth Ann Pilney: “Do we, as Christians, really mean to say that someone who doesn’t have Jesus in their life is wasting their life?”

    In a very real sense, they are. Scripture is chock full of references to life being wasted without God. We are all called to live out a purpose for God’s glory, yet without God, how does one seek to serve that purpose? In another, life apart from Christ leads not to life, but to death. If one takes their faith as a Christian seriously — beyond just some self-centered feel-good activity — then one cannot deny the truth of the statement. God wishes all would come to repentance and relationship with Him. While the t-shirt’s statement is a little blunt, it’s truthful. Some confuse love with kindness, but love isn’t about making one feel good; it’s about doing what’s right regardless of the cost to you.

    People perish when we make Christianity to be some personal salve for our lives and we really ignore the bulk of God’s revelation in doing so. God’s expectation has always been that we’d share the good news with others. Jesus said one does not hide a lamp on the table, he lets it shine for all to see. Is life wasted without Jesus? Jesus said so.