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September 9, 2012

Question:  Should students be allowed to proclaim their religion on a T-shirt at school?

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that it offended Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms when a school board banned a 12-year-old Sikh student from wearing his 20 cm/8 inch kirpan (dagger) required by Sikh orthodoxy. Since 2011, the kirpan has been legal in Canada’s federal parliamentary buildings, but not in provincial parliamentary buildings in Quebec.

Members of certain sects of Hinduism, Buddhism, and branches of Judaism, Christianity and Islam directly proclaim their religion by distinctive dress (kipas, turbans, hijabs, uniforms, veils, etc). Isn’t the wearing of a cross around one’s neck a proclamation of faith?

We don’t seem to mind commercial messages on T-shirts. We tolerate all sorts of messages in bad taste on clothing. Some people find it cute to wear even offensive messages on T-shirts. But now there seems to be a problem with a student proclaiming his religion on this item.

We live in an increasingly pluralistic society where minority rights must be considered. But the balance is getting decidedly lopsided. To take but one example, either minority pressure or politically correct bosses have succeeded in banning the Christmas tree from some workplaces. Some in this country have even successfully objected to the very name of Jesus! So the Christmas tree has for some become the more insipid “holiday tree,” its very origin denatured.

As soon as someone complains, some authorities feel they need to regulate. No one must be offended. The rule of political correctness, which is often nothing else but a form of censorship and control, often inconsistent and illogical, is brought to bear.

But, of course, common sense and courtesy should hold sway, words that do not belong in the vocabulary of some ultra-religious practitioners. Common sense and courtesy should determine the wording of the message. Unnecessarily provocative, overly judgmental, or damning sorts of messages are bound to offend.

So I would tend to avoid blanket rulings and look at individual cases. But as a general rule, I would say that freedom of expression should allow the proclamation of anyone’s religion on a T-shirt. Several of the world’s religions have been doing it successfully for millennia by wearing distinctive dress.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen September 9, 2012
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