Thursday November 27, 2014

Should school divisions punish students who wear shirts with controversial messages?


He said

Last week a student in a Nova Scotia was suspended because he wore a shirt that read, "A life is wasted without Jesus."

This incident set off something of a firestorm across comment sections, inciting some hot feelings.
This isn't a religious debate; it's a matter of free expression and school policy.

I recall from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale that mentions that the characters once had the "freedom to," but now have the "freedom from."

The school in this case was practising freedom from. They stripped one student's freedom to wear a T-shirt that would be offensive to only the most sensitive students in an effort to give all others in the school a freedom from this student's message.

His message was a little close-minded and shallow, suggesting anybody who doesn't see things his way is wasting their lives, but he should certainly still be allowed to express it.

That also brings us to school policy. My high school didn't have a dress code, but there was still a sense of wearing what is appropriate. I don't believe the Mercury has a dress code, or if we do, I was never told about it, but it would still be inappropriate to wear some pieces of clothing.

The student in this case probably should not have been suspended, as the best place for children and teenagers is in school. It could have been a teaching moment for the student, however.

Students, along with everybody else, are expected to dress appropriately for the different situations they find themselves in. The shirt clearly fell under their policy for inappropriate garb, but the penalty should be something a little lighter than a suspension; like on Tuesdays and Thursdays he wears a "Life is wasted with Jesus" shirt. That seems like a reasonable compromise.

She said

I think freedom of expression is extremely important. And being free to express one's religious preferences is also important. So I don't have an issue with this student wearing a shirt professing his religious beliefs. He's a proud Christian and there's nothing wrong with that. I assume he made that pretty clear without having it splashed across his shirt.

Plus, don't we allow students to wear turbans and burkas to school, because we don't want to discriminate? It's definitely not fair to tell one person it's OK to express his/her beliefs, while punishing another for doing the same.

However, what I don't agree with is trying to force your beliefs onto someone else. I've been the victim of this more times that I can count, especially when I was younger. It's uncomfortable and doesn't create a positive environment; I know that for me, it created a lot of resentment toward the religion that was being forced down my throat. From what I've read, this student was pretty busy trying to evangelize his classmates, and when he was turned down, he didn't back off.

So I think there's a bigger picture here to consider. Children who head to school proud of their faith and don't rub it in the faces of other students, they're great, they're not hurting anyone. But if the same students, proud of their faith, pestered their classmates to convert, they'd be crossing that line between acceptable and unacceptable. And it sounds like this student was the latter example, and the actions taken against him were a result of everything, his "Life is wasted without Jesus" shirt included.



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