The Jesus T-shirt

I should probably put a warning on this post. “Content is highly controversial.”

Now I know that there are two taboo subjects that we should never bring up, politics and religion. Understand I didn’t write this post to spark any religious debate. What I’m curious about is your feelings on freedom of expression.

“Your Life is Wasted Without Jesus”

These words, written on a t-shirt, have been the centre of a controversy this past week at a high school here in Nova Scotia. The student wearing the t-shirt was suspended from school for a week, after being asked repeatedly not to wear it, as some of the students found it offensive.

From an outside perspective, it seems to me that the purpose for him choosing to wear this t-shirt could have been to spark such a controversy— and that he did. It made national news.

One article I read on the issue stated that the t-shirt was simply rude. I was amused by one comment that ripped into the writer for calling the t-shirt rude while at the same time defending the student’s right to express himself. I mean really, if we truly believe in freedom of expression we can’t, in turn, criticize others for expressing their opinion just because we don’t agree. If the writer found the t-shirt rude then so be it.

I’d like to think that in this day and age we are all at a place where we respect the beliefs and opinions of others even when we don’t agree. While I’d like to think that, I know it’s not the case. Many of us will fight to bend someone’s thoughts and beliefs to match our own. We do it all the time. We become angry when someone can’t see things the same way we do because we know we’re right and why won’t so and so just listen. Okay, so I’ve been guilty of that in the past. I’ll admit it.

My question might be, if this student truly wanted to express his religious beliefs was it right to do it in a way that could be interpreted as an insult to other religions? But then, we need to ask if that was even the student’s intent in the first place– something we really can’t know. We can make assumptions, but assumptions are often far off track. Was the student actually suggesting that all other religions are a waste or has the whole statement been misconstrued? Media can do that.

In contrast, I am curious as to whether or not this same student would find a similar t-shirt offensive if it said, for example, “Your Life is Wasted Without Buddha.” How do I know, maybe he’d welcome a fellow student wearing such a shirt?

Was it right to suspend the student? (I don’t believe he was suspended for the t-shirt per se, but his refusal to listen to authority.) I’m betting with all the publicity the school is rethinking its actions. Perhaps the whole situation could have been handled differently.

I’ve been giving this subject some thought. While I agree with freedom of speech and expression, I do think there is a time and a place for everything. Being respectful of others is not mandatory, but seems decent and moral. As a society we draw invisible lines when we judge what is acceptable and what is not. The problem with invisible lines, however, is that we’re never really sure where those lines are until someone crosses them. Only then do we immediately know what offends us and what doesn’t. Not only that, those invisible lines are as varied as we are. Wow! So much to think about.

I just want to say it was a t-shirt that some people found offensive, one that obviously hit a nerve across the country. Turning this whole story into a huge controversy managed to spread this student’s message far and wide. Who knows, maybe this was his intent all along. If so, he succeeded.

Truthfully, I believe one of the best ways to express our beliefs is to lead by example. I can tell you right now that someone walking in peace and harmony, spreading love and joy, doing acts of kindness is going to influence me far more than a few words written on a t-shirt.

Some tough questions for discussion.


Do you find what was written on the t-shirt offensive ? Do you believe in freedom of expression regardless of the circumstances? If you would place restrictions on freedom of expression do you know what those restrictions would be? Do schools have a right to place these kinds of restrictions on students? While we’re on the subject of freedom of expression, do you believe in banning books?

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  1. Kids get away with all kinds of stuff on their shirts with foul language , sexual references, and other inappropriate references. As long as the stuff is mild and kind of tame it is overlooked. But wear something with Jesus on it, that is deemed pornographic and offensive. Twisted world.

  2. Our priorities do seem to be misplaced by times. I can only wish my next book will receive as much publicity. Oh wait, I forgot to put Jesus in it. :) Maybe the next book..

  3. I don’t find the student’s t-shirt offensive. I believe in freedom of expression, regardless, though at times it is not something I agree with. If the school has a written dress code, then they can restrict student attire by those guidelines. I know there are controversial books, I think people have the right to choose whether or not they read them; but I would like to see them somewhat restricted until age appropriate.

  4. Wow, definitely lots to ponder. First, yes, I found the T-shirt offensive because he was telling me I was wasting my life. Of course, that puts me (and others who were offended) on the defensive. We begin to think what is this 19-year-old doing in grade 12? What’s he on the four-year plan? See, we start downing him like he’s downing us.

    Personally, I think he was seeking his 15 minutes of fame. He got it. It’s over. He’s last week’s news.

    If he was all about freedom of expression would he greet me with a smile if I wore a T-shirt which stated: Your life is wasted WITH Jesus.

    Second, it is well-known that the education system and religion do not mix well, and that years ago they were separated because of it. Children of all religions should enjoy public schools without feeling they are second best. It is their right to have that freedom.

    I think much of this deals with respect. The student was told not to wear the T-shirt several times but continued to wear it. He has no respect for authority, a trend which is only growing among youth. I think the public and the other school boards should have stood behind the decision of the principal. Teachers already have little control over the kids, and now they have even less.

    Freedom is a wonderful thing but it can’t be had without respecting the rights of others. If we were all free to do what we wanted, what a terrible world we’d live in.

    Yes, schools do have the right to place restrictions on such things.

    If material is age appropriate and not pornograph, I don’t believe books should be banned from the schools. And I don’t believe they should be ‘edited’ to remove content to be made politically correct. That’s just silly. We can’t change history even if we want to white wash it out of the old books. How else are the students going to know the real language of a time frame? My daughter’s grade eight teacher edited as she read aloud. She wouldn’t use ‘gay’ (though it was used for happy) and she wouldn’t read ‘nigger’ from another text. Personally, I believe it was an opportunity missed. She could have stopped to explain why it was used in the book and why it shouldn’t be used today. She made it into a whisper word, one the kids snickered at behind her back.

    Okay, I wrote more than I planned, but you asked some tough questions. lol

  5. Angela Wilson

     /  May 10, 2012

    It’s okay for people to wear barely-there clothing in school but not wear a t-shirt with a logo that expresses a person’s freedom of religion and/or speech? Appalling. I, myself, do not have any religious affiliation nor do I believe in Jesus or God but I certainly believe in one being able to express themself. People take things too personally. People should be upset if someone is not able to utilize their constitutional rights.

  6. beverleysmith36

     /  May 11, 2012

    So if this student had worn a burka, or a turban or the robes of a buddhist would there have been the same reaction? The only religion that isn’t acceptable these days is Christian. Good on the student, bad on the school and anyone who thought it was rude.

  7. So many complicated questions. I didn’t find the t-shirt offensive and honestly, I can’t imagine why some people did. If somebody believes that my life is wasted without Jesus, I don’t care. It doesn’t make me question who I am or the purpose of my life.
    I don’t believe in banning anything; not books, not t-shirts, not drugs. I think people need to be provided with, or search out, the information they need to make educated choices.

  8. The issue wasn’t the t-shirt itself, it was the combination of his wearing the same t-shirt every day for three weeks and then also telling fellow students how they’d “rot in hell without Jesus in their lives”. Put those two things together and the school felt as if they needed to do something, especially after repeatedly talking to the kid.

    So with that out of the way, the only REAL thing offensive about the shirt is the color. I mean, this thing is ugly. I can’t imagine wearing that for more than one day a week, much less daily for three weeks straight.

    But I don’t believe the school made the right choice in suspending the kid over the t-shirt. If there were harassment issues with other students, then that’s something else that should have escalated with detention and letters home first. Simply telling the student to not wear the shirt anymore and then suspending him when he refused isn’t grounds enough in and of itself.

    Making him attend a fashion class might be an idea, too.

    • Canadian Bald Guy, why didn’t the news reports share this information? Err, it irks me when the entire story isn’t revealed in the news. If this is the case, then the student was being a bully, and we all know how well schools are handling that matter in Nova Scotia. He should not only be suspended, but charged as well.

      With regard to my earlier comment, I wrote with only school in mind. I don’t care what people wear in the public (I’m with Stupid, Your face is making my brain hurt), but the school environment is different. And there is a dress code in place in Nova Scotia. Kids are not allowed to wear offensive (cursing, beer shirts, weed shirts, etc.) in school. Whether an individual school enforces the rules is another thing. Where I live, they do. If kids wear inappropriate shirts, they are told to turn them inside out for the rest of the day and not to wear them again. They are not allowed to wear revealing clothing; that includes wearing your pants low enough to reveal underwear.

      • Actually, it was in the news. It wasn’t in the original piece, but it has been mentioned numerous times in follow-up stories.

    • Angela Wilson

       /  May 11, 2012

      We could find a lot of things offensive. Maybe I think your glasses look stupid. Maybe I don’t like your haircut. Maybe I don’t like your shoes. Come on. Why would a t-shirt cause conflict and problems? Defy school authorities? How about “defying a person’s constitutional rights?” What’s more important here? How is wearing a t-shirt expressing your beliefs obnoxious? I find it obnoxious that people judge others for silly reasons.

      • Angela Wilson, I suspect this comment is directed at mine lol.

        From what I understand, the tshirt itself was a cause for concern due to the student’s previous behaviour: preaching, condemning other students, etc. Why is THAT okay? In that respect, I understand why the school asked him to not wear the shirt. A school is within its right to ask a child to not wear any piece of clothing that is offensive or causes problems. What’s important here is providing children with a place to learn where they don’t feel judged, persecuted, or harassed. What would school be like if every child was allowed to do as they pleased? Afterall, that’s what we would be looking at if we weren’t allowed to “defy a person’s constitutional rights”.

        Wearing a tshirt that expresses your beliefs isn’t particularly obnoxious. What’s obnoxious is wearing it for three weeks when you KNOW people find it offensive; when you’ve been asked by the principle not to wear it.

        • Angela Wilson

           /  May 11, 2012

          Yeah, I don’t agree with the preaching end of it, nor wearing the same t-shirt for three weeks. That’s just gross! ha ha

  9. This is a school we’re talking about here. A place to learn. Right or wrong, from what I understand there were several students who found the tshirt offensive and it was causing conflict and problems within the school. In light of the tshirt wearers alleged finger pointing and preaching, it is no surprise that this tshirt came across as offensive.

    If anything a child wears is causing disruptions in the classroom, the school is well within their rights to ask the child not to wear it. Why is it okay for this student to defy school authorities? Because the tshirt is about Jesus? That doesn’t fly with me.

    Moreover, I find this kid extremely obnoxious. If your religion is so important and precious to you, pal, you shouldn’t feel the need to flaunt it on a tacky tshirt.

  10. Laura

     /  May 11, 2012

    Oh dear…I don’t want to offend anyone, but having two students in this school , and having one of them on the receiving end of one of his “religious rants”, because Mike and I aren’t married, I fully understand why the school suspended him.The t shirt took the blame for the whole situation….the young fellow, (who is apparently 20), had a fashion of telling students of other “religious” views that they were going right straight to hell if they didn’t convert to his “religion”..if a foreign exchange student was attending the school, he would target them as soon as they walked through the doors….telling them to convert or rot in hell….to me..this is unacceptable in any environment….especially a school!!! ….I’m not big on religion, I”m not a faithful church goer…but I believe that one should have respect, an open mind and the ability to accept that not everyone conforms to “my” way of thinking… me religion is a private manner and I don’t have to shove it on anyone..if I believe..then that is enough…

  11. oh boy. I live in Nova Scotia but don’t watch the news so missed all this kerfuffle. Having been a teacher and having also worked in a school office, I’m guessing this was probably the last of many reasons why the school was fed up with this kid.
    Second, let’s never confuse the media with searchers or supporters of truth. It’s all about selling papers and drawing attention.
    Third, you can get beat up on the playground, scorned and ridiculed for being poor, smoke joints behind the school, tell your teach to F off and you don’t get suspended!
    Fourth, what if………..everyone had seen this shirt and told this kid they were really glad he had found Jesus and was he planning on going to Bible School after graduation. Or if they had said how thankful they were to see he was no longer wasting his life. Drown him in kindness and approval instead of scorn. Let’s create a world of acceptance and kindness, shall we?

  12. Peggy

     /  May 11, 2012

    What happened to telling your children not to leave this bother them and to ignore the person. It is not that they are in kindergarden but are more grown up and should act as so. The more adult -kids, should be a friend to the ones being targeted and tell them this is not so and let it not bother them,

  13. It’s so interesting to read eveyones comments and much more informative and thought provoking than the same old stuff i’ve heard on CBC radio news all week. Thank you all for your comments. I think, however, that the combination of suspending this young man and then the media reports that followed have just polarized this issue, when what I think was needed more was some skillful mediation. I imagine the school did their best and the situation got very frustrating. I’m not blaming them. I am, however, really annoyed at the media coverage, which, i think has greatly contributed to polarizing this issue. My question is: how do we, as a society work through these problems without adding mor fuel to the fire? There have been alot of good ideas in the comments.

  14. Laura, you’ve chosen a whopper of an issue. Good for you! I’ve been following this on the news, and find it interesting that the press turned it into an issue about the T-shirt, with little mention of the preceding behavior that ultimately led to his suspension. The school must have been struggling with this situation, and I’m sure they will continue to struggle now that this young man has had his ‘moment of fame.’ With school budgets being slashed, how will they ever get this boy the counselling he must certainly need. The behavior and bullying that he was exhibiting prior to the ‘T-shirt’ could indicate a very low self esteem issue, thus his need to target and berate his fellow students. Crowing Crone Joss (love the name!) makes such a good point. My knee jerk reaction to condemnation is anger… an unfortunate instinct that feeds the condemner. If we all could take a page from Joss, and be kind in the face of hostility, it could potentially heal a broken situation. This case could require more healing than that… but this young man was possibly being fueled by the very anger he was provoking. This is not about the T-shirt ,(which didn’t offend me.)

  15. I see t-shirts at my daughter’s middle school that have the “F” word on it and, now popular, “I Love Haters”. Jesus, I know, would not be tolerated.

    Good news is: What is forbidden is what is appealing. If the new teenage rebellion consists of teenagers secretly reading the Bible, saying forbidden words (Merry Christmas), and doing good deeds because they know it’s frowned upon, then I guess I can live with that.

  16. I got home from work awhile ago and have been reading the comments. Thank you all for taking the time to express your thoughts on this. While I knew this subject was controveral I didn’t realize the debt of people’s reactions. I guess it goes to show why such a story went national. I do think that many people missed the point and immediately thought the boy was asked not to wear the shirt because “Jesus” was on it when it had more to do with with the message the shirt was saying, that in fact, if you aren’t Christian your life is wasted and meaningless. I don’t believe any life is meaningless. We are born for a reason, and our lives are valid.

    I’ve learned a lot from reading what you all had to say. One of the important things we should remember whenever we hear a story, whether it be in the news or not, is there is always much more to a story than what we are presented. Sometimes we jump to snap decisions, we make assumptions, pass judgement. I think most of us have done so at one time or other. Luckily, no matter what stand we take on a particular subject, we can change our opinions as new imformation is presented to us.

    Personally, for myself, I have found that simply because something doesn’t offnd me, I still try and be mindful of others and their feelings. Respect for one another, for our values, for our opinions goes a long way in helping us live together in harmony.

  17. Fascinating comments. And no, I never heard the follow up comments about him wearing the shirt for a week. Stinky? Where were his parents? “Son, you need a bath. Now!” That’s Global news for you, but that’s another story for another time. I’m offended when I see profanity or x-rated scenarios on t-shirts, but I can appreciate the person’s right to wear what they want. I’m learning not to gawk. I would think schools would step in and tell said-child to go home and change if the shirt insults anyone, especially women. Religion is a touchy subject, so I think the school had a right to do something after talking to him about it for a WEEK. Hello!

    On another note, I’ve sat down with many a born-again Christian, and they really do believe anyone who doesn’t believe as they do is indeed going to hell. You’re right, Laura, as human beings we need to become tolerant of each other. In some countries, the boy would be taken out and killed for insulting Allah.

  18. No. No. Yes. No. No.

    I don’t really want to get into the discussion part. I *could* climb on my soapbox, but this is one of those situations that doesn’t have a resolution because all sides feel too strongly about what they believe, to compromise. And it all comes down to compromise and compassion, neither of which can be coerced or legislated. I will say, however, I think ALL parties handled this badly.

  19. Julie

     /  May 20, 2012

    Hmmm, I’m not sure if the shirt offends me per se, but I think the preaching during school time was a bit much, especially since at 19, the student is a lot older than many others in the school. That could be pretty intimidating. And annoying.

    All the way around, everyone in this situation could’ve been a bit more tolerant, school board and parent included. Can’t we all just get along?

    Oh yeah. No.


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