That a 17-year old with a religious-themed tee shirt can upset a school board and create a furor in the media shouldn’t surprise anyone. School boards are notoriously easy to rile and they seem to fall for every provocation. Their commitment to political correctness is legendary and that makes them perfect targets for activists of all stripes.
For the South Shore board to even discuss the idea of banning a tee-shirt shows how overwrought it can become at the least flutter of a yellow flag. After all, school boards across the province celebrate the pink-shirt statement against bullying, which has a strong subtext of support for gay rights. To be clear, the boards are right to support the Pink Shirt campaign and very, very wrong to try and limit the free speech of this William Swinimer kid and his yellow shirt.
But as we learn more about the case, it has become obvious that the South Shore board’s stomach upset is about more than shirts and more than messages. The events today suggest what is really going on. As school opened, Swinimer’s Bible-waving father arrived, a church pastor in tow, and removed the boy. He said he wouldn’t stand for so much as a discussion about the shirt, the impact and the reaction.
So now we know what this really is all about. It’s another sad and disgusting case of parents manipulating their kids to make political statements that otherwise would be lost in the tangled weeds of irrelevance. Swinimer senior, John, is a religious fanatic. And in the way of the fanatic, he brooks no questions, no inquiry, no challenge. That nobody outside his family and church cares what he says doesn’t matter to him because he’s got God on his side.
According to reporting from by Beverley Ware in The Chronicle Herald, John Swinimer refused to take questions from reporters as he angrily took the boy out of class. “I’m making statements,” he said. And boy, is that ever accurate.
He’s making a statement about how his values must supercede everyone else’s. He’s making a statement about defiance of community norms. He’s making statements about the superiority of his convictions and the debasement of the wider community’s. He’s making a crystal-clear statement that his brand of Christianity brooks no tolerance for different opinions or views. He demands the right to express his views, yet has no apparent demand for anyone else’s.
In short, he’s just like the bishops, witch doctors, mullahs, preachers and ayatollahs of priest-ridden states around the world. He has a God-given right to impose his views on everyone else and he’s determined to do it, even if that means manipulating a minor child. That’s what this is all about.
That said, it gives me a queasy feeling to think what the experts are telling the kids at school, who will now be subjected to instruction on tolerance and the correct way to respect the views of others. Like there is a right way to do that.
Ware’s story also reveals that there was more to the younger Swinimer’s behaviour than the yellow shirt emblazoned with the ludicrous phrase “Life without Jesus is Wasted.” He preaches and proselytizes, tells the other kids they’re going to hell unless they adopt his religious beliefs and in general disrupts school activities. It’s not hard to imagine dear old dad egging him on every step of the way.
William Swinimer should have the right to wear his silly shirt. If the other students don’t like it, they should just ignore the message of hate and intolerance implicit in its message. Or wear their own tee-shirt: how about: “I think therefore I’m an Atheist” and see how tolerant of free speech the Swinimer camp really is.