A Nova Scotia student suspended from classes for five days for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Life Is Wasted Without Jesus" returned to school today wearing the same garment, but he was quickly taken home by his father.
William Swinimer, who's in Grade 12, was scheduled to attend a session for all students on how to express their beliefs in a way that is respectful to all.
But John Swinimer said he wants Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Lunenburg County, to only teach the basic courses, leaving religion out of it.
"He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old-fashioned academics," he said, waving a New Testament bible. "When they're having forums, when they're having other extra-curricular activity, he will not attend that school."
Students said William Swinimer has been preaching and making them feel uncomfortable, and the shirt was the last straw so they complained.
"He's told kids they'll burn in hell if they don't confess themselves to Jesus," student Riley Gibb-Smith said.
Katelyn Hiltz, student council vice-president, agreed the controversy didn't begin with the T-shirt.
"It started with him preaching his religion to kids and then telling them to go to hell. A lot of kids don't want to deal with this anymore," she said.
Hiltz said she supported the school's decision to suspend Swinimer for continuing to wear the T-shirt.
Experts from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the departments of education and justice, and guidance counsellors are at the school to conduct voluntary sessions so students can discuss the issue of religious tolerance.
On Friday, the South Shore Regional School Board ruled Swinimer would be allowed to wear the T-shirt, but also said it would bring in a facilitator on Monday to speak with students and parents.
School board superintendent Nancy Pinch-Worthylake said the board is using the incident as a learning experience.
"Our focus starting today is to work with students to use this as a learning experience. What we're focusing on is how we ensure that freedom to express religious beliefs continues, which we have always had and always supported, and talk about how we deal with it when there is not agreement around what that should look like in school," she said Monday.
Swinimer wore the T-shirt every day to class for several weeks, even after the principal told him repeatedly to stop wearing it, before he was suspended. He said he never intended to attack anyone else's beliefs.