The Great Yellow Jesus T-Shirt Fooforaw finally finishes


One hopes there was more to last week’s Great Yellow Jesus T-Shirt Fooforaw than we now know. One hopes. Otherwise…

What we do know is that William Swinimer, 19, a Grade 12 student at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Basin, a born-again Christian and member of the Jesus the Good Shepherd Pentecostal Church in Bridgewater, wore a bright yellow T-shirt to school emblazoned with the words “Life is wasted without Jesus.”

Someone claimed the message constituted an attack on their religious beliefs.

School officials asked Swinimer not to wear it.

Swinimer kept on wearing it.

There were discussions, instructions, orders, meetings with William, his parents, his pastor, 12 days worth of in-school suspensions. Still, Swinimer wore his T-shirt… day, after day, after day. (One hopes, teenaged boys being teenaged boys, he washed it at least occasionally between wearings.)

Finally, the school suspended William for five days.

Unsurprisingly, the story leaked to the press and traveled on the weird-news wire from St. John’s to Victoria, and beyond.

While there were hints from other students the real issue wasn’t Swinimer’s T-shirt but his aggressive proselytizing—something the school would have been within its rights to suspend him for—the school board had already chosen its T-shirt to die on.

School board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake split the hairs of T-shirt reasonableness. “If I have an expression that says ‘My life is enhanced with Jesus,’ then there’s no issue with that… [but] if the shirt were to say ‘Without Jesus, your life is a complete waste,’ then that’s clear that it is an opinion aimed at somebody else’s belief.”


Unsurprisingly, everyone from a national atheists organization to Tory leader Jamie Baillie found cameras before which to declare their support for Swinimer’s inalienable right to bear his religion on his chest.

Finally, mercifully, on Friday, the school board backed down.

Swinimer will be allowed to return to school today with his T-shirt intact. The school board now claims it was never about “the one shirt” and will spend today meeting with students and parents about “expressing beliefs in a complex multicultural school environment.”

All’s well that ends.

  1. “inalienable right to bear his religion on his chest”? Um, no. In a secular environment, you have the right to a reasonable expression of your religious belief, such as wearing a cross or pentagram on a chain around your neck.

    In a secular environment, it’s entirely reasonable to limit that right to express your religious beliefs such that obnoxious t-shirts, proselytizing, or any other kind of circus act is disallowed.

    Freedom of religion applies to all religions. Unless you happen to be in your place of worship where it’s reasonable to assume everyone else shares your beliefs, your freedom of religion and freedom of expression do not translate into a license to harass and impose your beliefs on others. Other people have rights as well.


  2. Great Yellow Jesus indeed.


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