By Jason Menard
The case of a Nova Scotia teen who has been suspended for wearing a religious shirt is getting lost in the religious rhetoric. This is not about freedom of religion or bullying – and a deeper reading of the Bible could have prevented this skirmish from starting.
In a high-school version of Judgment Day, William Swinimer has been suspended for wearing a shirt that says, “Life is wasted without Jesus.”
A local pastor, Varrick Day, is breaking out the hyperbole. He’s quoted as saying Swinimer’s being bullied for his beliefs. He’s accused the school of having a personal vendetta, defending the shirt by stating the phrase is lifted from the Bible.
But there’s another phrase in the Bible that’s relevant. And unless you’re willing to create an environment where religious criticism is the norm, then it may be time for Swinimer and Day to back off.
Matthew 7:1 states, “judge not lest you be judge.” This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be judged – but if you are going to do so, expect to have the same come back to you. After all, the next verse states, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standards of measure, it will be measured to you.”
So, if Swinimer is going to criticise others for their spirituality – and, in my opinion, the shirt can be interpreted to be passing judgment on others’ beliefs — then those who believe in Jesus should not complain when others wear shirts with similar messaging. If he’s going to stand on this principle, then there better be no condemnations from the pulpit when someone shows up in a “Your God Sucks!” shirt.
According to the aforementioned article, “[the school is] supportive of students right to have religious beliefs in school,” board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake said in an interview. “The only time we would ever try to change message is when others student interpret the message as a criticism of their beliefs.”
There are many people who don’t believe in Swinimer’s god. Their lives are, in no means, a waste. True, it may not have been Swinimer’s intent to denigrate other’s spiritual beliefs, but the shirt implies that Jesus is better. As a criticism of other’s beliefs, then the school is justified. And this doesn’t even consider the fact that Chester Bain, N.S.’ Forest Height Community School is a public school.
Swinimer allegedly has been warned before to not wear the shirt and he chose to ignore the warnings. Allegedly, he’s vowed to continue ignoring them. I admire his strength of conviction. The only problem is that it’s completely misplaced.
This isn’t a freedom of religion issue. No one is questioning Swinimer’s right to believe in whichever deity he likes. The issue is the message. If he’s truly intent in glorifying his god, why not wear something simple like a shirt that says, “I love Jesus”? Same devotion; better message.
If his goal is to convert other students, why not do so by showing them what a life well led is like? By being helpful, supportive, and understanding? By not figuratively looking down upon them from a self-proclaimed position of spiritual authority?
Religious criticism can’t be selective. It’s all or nothing – judge not lest you be judged. And by claiming personal vendettas, bullying, and anti-freedom-of-religion sentiments?
Well, I may not be Christian, but even I know that’s taking the Lord’s name in vain!