It’s a grave sense of entitlement that leads people to claim one’s rights are being taken away when you’re simply being refused special treatment.
Such is the case with 19 year old Nova Scotian William Swinimer, now infamous in Canadian newspapers for wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “Life is Wasted Without Jesus” despite repeatedly being asked by school authorities not to. Were the case simply about the t-shirt, this case would make for something of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is a school’s responsibility to try and ensure a comfortable and welcoming environment for all its students, regardless of faith or creed; if t-shirts such as Swinimer’s inhibit this goal, many claim the ban is justified. However, one must remember we do not have a fundamental right to protection from being offended. The ability to deal elegantly with ideas that are uncomfortable to you is a great virtue, and a skill all people must learn in this increasingly small but still diverse world; a skill more and more kids may be leaving high school without.
Of course, it isn’t simply about the t-shirt. Vice-president of the school council Katelyn Hiltz informed the CBC that Swinimer had been an aggressive and disruptive presence at the school even before making use of his wardrobe, picking fights with other kids who didn’t share his beliefs. “It started with him preaching his religion to kids and then telling them to go to hell,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t want to deal with this anymore.” Behaving this way, be it for religious reasons or no, has been a suspendable offense in schools for ages, so it should come as no surprise to anyone if they ask him to leave permanently, let alone the mere five days they chose. However, because his behaviour was inspired by his Christianity, many Canadians are now calling foul, saying his religious rights are being infringed upon.
What sort of attitude inspires the idea that Swinimer is being mistreated simply because he’s being held to the same rules and standards as the other kids? A common explanation is that these are the “shrinking pangs” of a traditionally entitled belief system adjusting to an increasingly secular, multicultural context. There’s resentment amongst many that voicing their religious convictions is now subject to the same rules of social etiquette as everything else, including rules of verbal harassment.
True, unfettered religious freedom does not exist for Canadian students like Swinimer: what religious freedom they have is bounded by the laws of their respective schools, let alone those of Canada. This is simply something everyone will need to get used to, and it’s this author’s hope that inter-faith groups continue to multiply and grow to aid this transition.