Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Christian T-shirt slogan nets suspension

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CHESTER BASIN, N.S. -- A Grade 12 student in Nova Scotia has been suspended for wearing a T-shirt publicizing his religious beliefs.

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 superintendent 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. "If the shirt were to say, 'Without Jesus, your life is a complete waste,' then that's clear that it is an opinion aimed at somebody else's belief."

Pynch-Worthylake said the school has spoken with Swinimer a number of times about the shirt, asking him not to wear it again. Swinimer was unavailable for comment.

Varrick Day, the pastor at Swinimer's Pentecostal church, said the young man feels his religious freedom is being restricted at the school.

"His reaction is that he is being bullied by the school itself, not the students, when it comes to his freedom of speech within the school and his freedom of sharing his faith," Day said from Bridgewater, where he preaches at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church.

Day said Swinimer was told at least one student at the school complained about the shirt.

Pynch-Worthylake said the school tried mediation with Swinimer before suspending him. A spokesman for provincial Education Minister Ramona Jennex said the minister believes the issue should be handled by the school board.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 A15

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