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?