Freedom of speech seems to be under attack lately, at least in our schools.
There was the high school kid in Nova Scotia who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Life is Wasted Without Jesus” on the front.
First, William Swinimer was kicked out of school and told he could return if he changed his shirt to “My Life is Wasted Without Jesus.” He declined. Under public pressure, the school let him back in anyway.
Then his dad found out William was expected to attend forums on how students can appropriately express their beliefs.
“He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old-fashioned academics,” dad said.
This, of course, attracted a lot of attention, right across the country as well as in the U.S.
“It’s not just standing up for religious rights, it’s standing up for my rights as a Canadian citizen; for freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” the 19-year-old Swinimer told one paper.
A little earlier, there was the Dr. Seuss thing in Prince Rupert. A Grade 1 teacher was reportedly told to take down a quote from Dr. Seuss that said, “I know, up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
Too political. Sounded like a sly reference to Bill 22.
"We feel very censored here right now,” said Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers Union. “Our rights to freedom of expression have been violated."
The mistake people in authority often make, when it comes to what is OK to say and what is not, is that they make much ado about nothing. They don’t stop for just a moment to think how silly they’ll look once word spreads about their attempts at message control.
William Swinimer’s ideas about Jesus are no different than those expressed in any Sunday morning church service. True, there’s something to be said for separating church and state, but if our school system is going to engage in censorship, it might think about picking its spots more carefully.
Do we really need to wrap our schools in cocoons, make them places where differing opinions are never to be heard, where nary a spiritual or political word will be mentioned?
Wouldn’t it be better to sanction balance, debate, dissenting views? Wouldn’t the students who professed to being offended by William Swinimer have been better off to fight back with their own T-shirts saying “Life is Wasted With Jesus?” or “Maybe HIS Life is Wasted Without Jesus”? Declare the side with the most T-shirts the winner, and move on?
One more thought on this subject. I was downtown a few days ago when, suddenly, a young mother who was walking with her little daughter stopped and started lacing into a street person who was leaning against a downtown building.
“Do you think you’re funny?” she yelled. “Are you proud of scaring my daughter?”
The smirk quickly left the guy’s face and he was apologizing vociferously by the time she walked away.
I didn’t hear what he’d said, but clearly his opinion wasn’t appreciated. The young mom’s views won the day — I admired her for standing up to a stranger in protection of her child.
It was freedom of expression at its best.