Intolerant Toleration – Part 3: Canadian Edition

Intolerant toleration continues to be alive and well.

Last week I wrote a blog about a speech on bullying given by Dan Savage during which he ridiculed Christianity and the Bible, and called the Christians who walked out “pansy-assed.” A few days later, I followed up with a blog about the April 30, 2012 article on the Huffington Post website where author John Shore defends Savage’s remarks.

Swinimer

Now, it’s a different situation, this time in the rural community of Chester Basin, Nova Scotia. According to an article on Christianpost.com, as well as several other sources, William Swinimer, a student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, has received multiple in-school suspensions for wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Life is Wasted Without Jesus.” Last week, he was also handed a five day out of school suspension, which ends Monday. According to school officials, other unnamed students complained that the T-shirt was intolerant of their non-Christian beliefs. Swinimer says that he was told the shirt was a form of “hate talk.”

According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (similar to the Bill of Rights in the United States),

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

So, according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Swinimer’s T-shirt is protected under both freedom of religion and freedom of opinion and expression. What about the charge that the T-shirt is “hate talk?” According to a Canadian government publication,

Under s. 319(1) of the Criminal Code, anyone who communicates statements in a public place and thereby incites hatred against an identifiable group where such incitement leads to a breach of the peace is guilty of an indictable offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment or a summary conviction offence

Any person charged … has available four special defences … 2) that an opinion or argument on a religious subject was expressed in good faith

First, the phrase, “Life is Wasted Without Jesus,” does not “incite hatred.” Second, there is no “identifiable group” mentioned on the shirt. Third, there was no “breach of the peace.” And fourth, the phrase, “Life is Wasted Without Jesus,” is clearly “an opinion or argument on a religious subject was expressed in good faith.”

According to Canadian law, Swinimer’s T-shirt is clearly not “hate talk.” However, the suspensions imposed for wearing the T-shirt are clearly a violation of his rights to freedom of religion and freedom of opinion and expression.

According to Fox News,

Swinimer confirmed that he had been disciplined a number of times for wearing shirts with religious references.

“I’ve found that they have dissed Christianity quite a bit,” he said. “I do not want to be disrespectful of anybody else’s religions. I don’t want to put down anybody’s opinions. All I want to do is stand up for rights and freedoms of Canadians.”

The school does not have a dress code and Swinimer said students wear a variety of t-shirts. But he said for whatever reason, his Christian shirts seem to get him sent to the office.

“They treat other religions differently than they do Christianity,” he said. “The staff and principal and school board have been very hostile toward Christianity.”

But, he said, they promote other religions in the school.

“If they can pick on Christians in this school, what can they pick next?” he wondered. “Christianity in that school is not being treated the same way. I’m being discriminated against because of my religion.”

Swinimer did not violate the school dress code; the school does not have one. Someone was “offended,” and school officials arbitrarily decided to punish Swinimer for expressing his Christian views.

Pinch-Worthylake

It was not Swinimer who acted with intolerance; it was school board superintendent Nancy Pinch-Worthylake and other school officials who acted with intolerance toward Christianity in the name of tolerance of all other worldviews. Pynch-Worthylake said that because the phrase on the shirt is directed at the beliefs of others, it is “problematic.”

“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.”

Such semantic hair-splitting is very poor excuse for the persecution of Swinimer’s right to express his Christian beliefs. In the name of tolerance, school officials demonstrated bigoted intolerance of Christianity.

Earlier today, Swinimer and his pastor met with the South Shore Regional School Board. The board ruled that Swinimer will be allowed to wear the T-shirt. According to CBC News,

Pinch-Worthylake said the board will use this incident as a learning moment for everyone, adding that it is time to move on.

“We’re going to be working with students around how they can express their religious views and other views appropriately, and how we work together when those views may be interpreted or misinterupted by others,” she said.

I can only hope and pray that Pinch-Worthylake and the other school officials take their own advice, and use the incident as a “learning moment.” Intolerance is wrong, especially when directed at young people by those placed in authority over them.

As Christians, we must never hate others because they believe differently than we do. Rather, we are commanded to love both our “neighbor” and our “enemies.” At the same time, we must stand up for the truth, and “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

However, Christians are not supposed to just sit back and accept the double standard of intolerant tolerance directed at us. It’s time for us to stand up to the bullying and prejudice directed at us by those that hate God and Christians.

“I believe there are things that are bigger than me. And I think that I need to stand up for the rights of people in this country, and religious rights and freedom of speech,” Swinimer told CBC News Thursday.


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