Beyond the Headlines

More than just a t-shirt slogan

Posted: May 7, 2012 5:26 PM ET Last Updated: May 7, 2012 5:26 PM ET

We now have a much clearer picture of what the South Shore Regional School Board has been going through in its dealings with William Swinimer and his family.


Swinimer is the grade 12 student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Grant, who became a cause célèbre after he was suspended for wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "Life is wasted without Jesus."


Immediately supporters, including Conservative leader Jamie Baillie, slammed the board for trampling all over Mr. Swinimer's right to freedom of religion and expression.


We're now learning that, as the board maintained all along, this was about far more than  just a slogan on a t-shirt.


It turns out Swinimer's fellow students were fed up with his constant preaching, his habit of telling them they were going to hell if they didn't accept Jesus Christ into their lives.


They complained to the administration. The school asked Swinimer to tone it down, to show some respect for the beliefs and feelings of others, but he refused.


Some students told us Swinimer was particularly focused on a group of foreign exchange students.


I asked Swinimer about that last Friday.


"The exchange student are my friends" said Swinimer, "and yes I do talk to them about God, but they all enjoy it, and I enjoy it, and actually one of them decided to accept Christ and become a Christian, and he thanked me for telling him about it."


"There's no yelling or screaming, there's no hate at all, there's just a conversation."


When I told him the school board had backed down and was willing to let him return to school wearing the now-infamous t-shirt, Swinimer was surprised and excited. He told  me he would definitely be there Monday morning.


Swinimer did show up, as did his pastor and his father, who cooked up a little show for the media.


Holding his bible in his hand, John Swinimer immediately withdrew his son from school.


"He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and

arithmetic, good old-fashioned academics. When they're having forums, when they're having other extra curricular activities, he will not attend that school," Swinimer told reporters.


Why was Swinimer so upset? Well, the school board was bringing in experts to talk to the students about how to express one's beliefs while respecting the feelings and beliefs of others.


John Swinimer wanted no part of that for his son. 


For Swinimer,it appears the only issue is his son's right to preach the word of the Lord whenever, and to whomever, he wants. 


People will still debate and argue whether the school board over reacted by suspending William Swinimer for five days.


But at least now we know what they were dealing with.

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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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