Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Christian privilege

Recently, a student at a high school here in Nova Scotia was suspended for five days because he refused to stop wearing a t-shirt that school officials say some students and teachers found offensive. The shirt in question states, "Life is wasted without Jesus." When the student, William Swinimer, was asked to stop wearing the shirt, he refused, and then went as far as to wear it to school every day for several weeks. (I imagine it must have stunk something fierce, unless he had more than one copy of the shirt.) Finally, the school suspended Swinimer, and it drew a lot of attention across the country (and maybe even further). The school has since reversed its decision and allowed Swinimer to return to school and wear his shirt.

Upon first hearing about the story, one of my initial reactions was to wonder what dress code policies the school has in place, and whether or not Swinimer's shirt was in violation of said policy. I think I must be the only one to have this reaction, as I haven't read any articles mentioning it. Then again, I had to wear a uniform in high school, so my perspective is a bit different.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty cut-and-dry issue; people have the right to freedom of religion and expression in this country, and while Swinimer's response to being asked to stop wearing that particular t-shirt is a real asshole move, he's still well within his rights. (And, to be honest, when I was Swinimer's age I probably would have done something similar.) I think the school was in the wrong for suspending Swinimer because of the shirt. I do not, however, support Swinimer.

This article  is the first one I read about the controversy. Swinimer is quoted as saying, "Some people say you're not supposed to have religion in school. Well, every other religion is in that school and they constantly put Christianity down."

Ahh, yes. Poor Christian student, so immersed in Christian privilege that he can't see all the Christian influences around him. It seems like he's forgotten that he wasn't in school over Easter weekend, or that he gets time off for Christmas. He doesn't have to go to school on his religion's Sabbath day. In fact, until recently, you couldn't go shopping on a Sunday in Nova Scotia. But no, there's no Christianity in schools, and everyone picks on the poor Christians.

There's another choice quote from The Gazette:
As young Swinimer himself pointed out last week: Kids at his school can sport Satanic motifs without apparent difficulty. The Twilight books, which glorify vampirism? No doubt that's OK. But an overt expression of Christianity? Tut, tut.
Twilight is Satanic, now? Really? A series of books that put heavy emphasis on sexual purity until marriage, about a man who stalks his girlfriend, narrated by a woman who sees his abusive and manipulative actions as the ultimate expression of his love for her? A series of books written by a devout Christian? Are all books save the Bible banned in the Swinimer household?

Today was supposed to be Swinimer's first day back at school. Yes, he was still wearing his t-shirt. However, the student's father, John Swinimer, made quite the show of pulling his son out of school upon hearing that the school was holding voluntary forums on how students can appropriately express religions beliefs. Waving a Bible around, he said, "[William] will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic — good old fashioned academics."

Good old fashioned academics, eh? Like a return to the days when religion was taught in public schools?

The forums being held by the school-- which are entirely voluntary-- are being facilitated by  a representative from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, along with psychologists, school staff, and hosted by officials from the provincial Education department. John Swinimer's actions suggest that he doesn't want his son participating in discussions on religious tolerance, or how to express beliefs in more respectful way. From the Globe and Mail:
[John Swinimer] 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.

"When they're having forums, when they're having other extra-curricular activities, he will not attend that school."
 Other students from the school are now speaking out, saying that William Swinimer's suspension is about more than just his t-shirt. Swinimer would frequently try to evangelize other students, and, according to this article from the CBC, he paid particular attention to foreign students. Swinimer would also tell students they were going to hell if they didn't convert.

Was Swinimer's rebellion really about freedom of religion, or was he more concerned with being able to harass other students who didn't agree with his particular flavour of Christianity, or Christianity at all? Based on the reaction today, on what was supposed to be Swinimer's first day back at school after his suspension, I'm inclined to think it's the latter. They're steeped in Christian privilege, and fighting like hell to keep it.

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