When is censorship appropriate?

Published on May 7, 2012

William Swinimer is making headlines across the country. The Chester Basin Grade 12 student has been suspended from his Nova Scotia high school, Forest Heights Community School, for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Life is wasted without Jesus."

At issue is the judgment implied by the slogan. School officials claim they have the right to curtail displaying messages that may offend the beliefs of others.

Swinimer's shirt is clearly judgmental: suggesting anyone not believing in his deity, Jesus, is wasting his or her life.

Students have the right to feel insulted, and the right to engage in peaceful conversations with Swinimer about his beliefs. What they don't have the right to do is insist their eyes are never affronted by an opinion they don't like.

Let's be clear: Swinimer comes off badly in this debate. His T-shirt may be viewed as obnoxious by some. Yes, he's fighting for the right to express himself, and we back that fight. This student could choose to wear a shirt expressing something positive about his Christian faith. Instead, he made a decidedly un-Christian gesture: casting the first stone by openly judging others.

However, free societies flourish when we endorse a free market of ideas. And schools should be one of the places children learn that lesson. The urge to make education facilities an oasis of banal calm needs to be resisted.

Exercise improves fitness through physical stress. Too much stress leads to injury. Too little produces no results.

The same is true for character development and intellectual growth. Do education administrators really believe they're helping their young charges when they 'protect' them from the mild discomfort of learning that Swinimer thinks Jesus is the only way? Our teens need to be strengthened to meet a world that will challenge and confront them at every turn.

The cat's out of the bag, Pandora's box has been opened: censorship may be appropriate for young kids, but teens can't be kept from culture's ugliness. We need to teach them how to handle what they see, not insist on blindfolds.