William Swinimer got the shirt from his dad who bought it at a sovenier shop in the US. He was suspended for five days after an in-school suspension of 12 days, for not taking off the shirt at school when asked. Apparently a student complained and Swinimer, who says he has been bullied for sharing his faith, took his stand.
He and his family attend a small independent Pentecostal church in Bridgewater, and his pastor vowed to raise money, print 100 of the shirts and pass them out to students after Swinimer was suspended. A Bridgewater businessman stepped forward and donated the money for the church to print shirts. The pastor’s decision a far cry from one student believing he is exercising his freedom of religion.
Varrick Day, the church’s pastor, said he pushed Swinimer’s family to speak up, telling them, “Your rights have been invaded here.”
He then posted Swinimer’s story on YouTube, asking people to send him money to print 100 of the shirts so he can give them to other students.
“For too long, we’ve been pushed around when it comes to our freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Day said.
He said Christianity should be taught in schools.
“That is the problem. That is why we have so much turmoil,” Day said. “There’s so much violence right now in schools with guns and killings and racism and with bullying.
“They have taken the Ten Commandments out of schools, they have removed the Bibles from the schools, they have taken God, Jesus, out of the schools and right now the school is in a mess and we need morals, we need principles.”
The shirt reads, “Life is Wasted Without Jesus.” Swinimer believes he is witnessing by wearing it.
Swinimers suspension garnered international attention. He originally planned to wear the shirt again on Monday when he heads back to school.
Pynch-Worthylake said the school will hold a series of gatherings with students Monday to talk about what’s appropriate when expressing your convictions, what isn’t, and how to deal with things when there’s a conflict.
Officials from government departments will be involved. The daytime meetings will be followed by an evening meeting for students and their families at the school at 7 p.m.
“We absolutely expect the students to be interested and engaged,” Pynch-Worthylake said. She said the students have borne up well under the sudden national media spotlight.
“The school has continued to function. These are fabulous students and they continued to be in school. There has been added strain and stress for them, but they have been amazing and the principal has said she’s really proud of them,” Pynch-Worthylake said.
While the T-shirt is not the crux of the issue for the school board, it will be the starting point for discussion Monday.
“The message on the shirt can be interpreted multiple ways so we will use that as a starting point for a discussion about what do we do when the message isn’t clear,” Pynch-Worthylake said.
Pynch-Worthylake said she believes the school acted appropriately with Swinimer based on policy and past experience, but will handle things differently if a case like this arises again.
She said schools frequently deal with complaints about clothing, and at times must get the board involved, but those concerns are “almost 100 per cent of the time” worked out.
That didn’t happen here.
“Would we do things differently if a similar situation arose again? Absolutely,” Pynch-Worthylake said.
Swinimer says has several t-shirts with Christian messages.
I know the South Shore of NS fairly well. Forest Heights Community School is a small high school in a former fishing village about an hour out of Halifax. It’s an area of economic contrasts with people moving into the area and buying up shore line.
Swinimer believes he is standing up for all religions. The international spotlight has had the Grade 12 student debating whether or not he’ll wear the shirt on Monday, and he told ATV news this evening he is nervous to go back to school. The school board has provided him with a facilitator he will meet with over the weekend, and should he head back to school, he’ll meet with his fellow students in a specially arranged forum to debate and discuss freedom of speech and religious beliefs. Let’s hope his pastor backs off and gives the students and staff space to work things out.
Varrick Day, Swinimer’s pastor in Bridgewater, said he didn’t see the value in holding a forum with students and school officials since the Grade 12 student has indicated he won’t alter his position.
“There’s nothing really to talk about. He’s not taking the shirt off and he’s not going to change any wording,” he said. “What is there to talk about?”
He said he has asked for an interview with Premier Darrell Dexter and the minister of education to find out if they support what he said was Swinimer’s right to express his religious beliefs.
Update: William Swinimer went back to school Monday – and his father showed up and yanked him out. Yes, he is in high school, but he is also an adult. I’m not surprised to hear that adults in Swinimer’s life are driving this agenda. Debating and discussing is as much a part of an education as math, what is his dad and his pastor afraid of? This student has had enough attention, and the opportunity to sit with his peers and process communication, suspensions, freedom and media attention could have added to the life lessons.
Students at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Grant are discussing religious beliefs and freedom of speech today, but William Swinimer, the student who sparked the debate, isn’t part of that discussion.
His father, John Swinimer, pulled him out of the school when he arrived this morning following a five-day suspension for wearing a T-shirt that said Life is Wasted Without Jesus.
John Swinimer said neither his son nor his daughter will return while such debates are going on.
“He will not attend this school unless they are having readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic, good old-fashioned academics. When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra curricular activities, he will not attend that school. … 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.”
William Swinimer showed up at school this morning wearing the yellow T-shirt that has garnered him national attention, but moments later his father angrily strode across the school parking lot, waved his copy of The New Testament at the media, and told them he’s pulling his son out of school.
John Swinimer accused the school district and the province of being anti-Christian, and said his three children have been bullied at the school because of their beliefs.
When asked what’s wrong with having his son take part in the debate, John Swinimer said, “It is time that we rise up. I am not taking questions right now. I am making statements.”
When another reporter asked him if he intends to pull William out of school permanently, or just while the discussions are being held, he said, “I’m making a statement here, I’m not answering questions. … If you overstep my boundaries I’m going to get in the car and leave,” which he did a short time later with his son in the front passenger seat.