Student wears Jesus shirt, but leaves school
William and his father John Swinimer leave Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia, on Monday, May 7, 2012 wearing his "Life is Wasted Without Jesus" T-shirt. The South Shore regional school board, who had previously suspended Swinimer for wearing the shirt to school, have since reversed their decision. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Dembeck.
CHESTER BASIN, N.S. - William Swinimer returned to school Monday wearing the same T-shirt that led to his suspension and aroused a debate on religious freedom, but was abruptly pulled from class by his Bible-waving father who said his son would not take part in a discussion on tolerance.
"I walk in love, but today I am angry," John Swinimer said outside Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin.
"The flower of Christianity can never bloom here."
His 19-year-old son was suspended last week after he refused to abide by a principal's request to stop wearing a bright yellow shirt bearing the message, "Life is wasted without Jesus."
He said he wouldn't allow William to participate in discussions about freedom of expression and religious tolerance that provincial Education Department officials were hosting inside the school.
"He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old fashioned academics," Swinimer said, waving a copy of the New Testament.
"When they're having forums, when they're having other extra-curricular activities, he will not attend that school."
Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, the superintendent for the South Shore Regional School Board, said it was unfortunate the Grade 12 student was yanked from school.
"We're very disappointed that William is not here to work with the other students and the facilitators that we have today so that we can move forward," Pynch-Worthylake said.
"We've been trying to reach out to him since last week and during the weekend, so that's a big disappointment to us."
She said it was vital for the school to move past the controversy, which has triggered debate and attracted attention across the country.
"The T-shirt is not what matters anymore," she said. "It is very important that we move away from a narrow debate about a slogan or message on a T-shirt and on to a broader discussion of how to express our beliefs in a respectful manner and how we deal with concerns about that message."
Sitting in his father's car, the young man rolled down the window to tell reporters he had no comment.
Two students from the school said they supported the board's actions.
Katelyn Hiltz, the student council vice-president, said it was frustrating to see the board come under criticism.
"It's hurt our school so much," she said in an interview.
"A school is a place to feel safe and welcome and comfortable. If (Swinimer) is going to make them feel like their life is wasted without Jesus, they are not going to feel comfortable, they're not going to feel safe and they're just not going to want to be here anymore."
Riley Gibb-Smith, a 15-year-old Australian exchange student, said Swinimer sometimes tried to evangelize students, even after they told him they weren't interested in converting to his brand of Christianity.
Gibb-Smith, who wore a white T-shirt that said, "No life is wasted," said he was approached by Swinimer three days after arriving at the school.
"He wouldn't stop," said the Grade 10 student. "It's a constant thing. You can say, 'I'm not interested,' but he'll continue and he'll pester."
Swinimer did not return subsequent requests for comment.