Tagged: Jeffrey Shallit
Two reader responses to the angry rant from a utility customer who objected to receiving generic holiday greetings at Christmastime.
Jeffrey Shallit writes:
This guy represents everything that is bad about Christian North America. He doesn’t understand freedom of religion; he feels so threatened by non-Christians he wants to resort to violence; and he assumes everyone who is Canadian is necessarily Christian (forget about all those damned, Jews, I suppose, not to mention native Canadians who might follow traditional native religions).
Although not Jewish myself, I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia that was predominantly Jewish. Many lost members of their family in the Holocaust at the hands of Christian Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians. (And please, do not object with a version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Their murderers often called themselves Christians, and the long history of Christian anti-Semitism cannot be denied.) These Jews did not always celebrate Christmas, even the secular version, and many objected strongly to the presumption that everyone did.
In such an environment, if you did not know what people celebrated, it was simply rude to assume one way or another. Thus, I grew up wishing people “Happy Holidays” unless I was sure. Most people I knew did the same. I still do so.
David Major counters:
Unless I am awfully mistaken, the notion of the neutralized nomenclature is a thoroughly urban myth.
The idea was born in a corporate manger fearing the tag of presumptiveness.
Mind, there are situations where the gathering is fairly intimate where a good host might fairly be as inclusive as possible.
Golly, tons of reaction — on all sides — to cyber-libertarian Jeff Shallit’s nomination of South Shore District School Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake as “Authoritarian High School Superintendent of the Month.” (Apologies for the delayed posting; it’s been a busy week.)
Chris McCormick writes:
I figure someone’s right to express their opinion is balanced by my right to ignore them; the principal’s reaction just valorizes the ‘victim society’ where we want to whitewash all differences and offending symbols…remember Lenny Bruce [language NSFW]? “It’s the suppression of the word which gives it the power, the violence…”
I have been aware of Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake’s work for about 10 years. From everything I’ve heard, I understand her to be an intelligent, brave, and discerning professional and leader. When I read your blog this morning, I thought there must be more to this story than first presented. The editorial in the Cape Breton Post made the story more complete for me. My conclusion is the her decision was not only reasonable, but brave.
The young people in our schools are arriving with all sorts of things written on their shirts, much of which promotes disrespect. What was written on Swinimer’s shirt was not benign. The phrasing is significant. “Life is wasted without Jesus” is a judgment of what you should be and do, not an expression of what I choose for me. This is no small point. Tolerance and free speech can only be protected, if we have the intelligence to sort out the difference. The principal and Nancy Pynch-Worthylake tried to do that. I applaud them both.
A reader whose family includes a retired Anglican minister, passed along antidote apparel depicted at right:
A reader who is not from the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater writes:
It’s obvious Jeffrey Shallit does not live in the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater, because if he did, he’d know that no matter how strongly you felt it, you’d never say anything like this: “Swinimer’s t-shirt expresses a moronic and wrong sentiment, and he sounds like the typical evangelical jerk who can’t keep quiet about his own ‘good news.’” Because the fall-out from evangelicals, of which there are many who attend Baptist, Pentecostal, and break-away Protestant churches in the Bible Belt of Nova Scotia, would not be worth it. Shallit, safe from the wrath of God in Waterloo.
Reader Dana Doiron thinks the The Cape Breton Post got it right:
Proselytizing at school and suggesting that the international students at his school were damned (I spoke to students and parents) were the issue. The t-shirt was just the most recent manifestation to which the complaining students could point. Parents, teachers and religious leaders (and, politicians) should help students learn tolerance and empathy not just the assertion of individual rights. The student’s dad may have taken the best step toward resolving this issue by removing his son from school today to go home and change shirts.
What Shallit was reacting to, given the information available at the time, was Swinimer’s suspension for the sin of wearing a T-shirt expressing minority religious views. If Swinimer was browbeating fellow students, or proselytizing disruptively on school time, that’s another matter. Wearing a slogan the superintendent doesn’t like is not grounds for dismissal in a democracy.
[Update below] A Canadian Internet civil libertarian has named South Shore Regional School Board Superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake “Authoritarian High School Superintendent of the Month” for placing student William Swinimer on five days suspension for wearing a shirt that read, “Life is wasted without Jesus.”
University of Waterloo computer science professor Jeffrey Shallit announced the tongue-in-cheek award on his Recursivity Blog, but his denunciation of Pynch-Worthylake’s overreaction was anything but tongue-in-cheek:
North American high schools are not places where free speech and criticism of authority are welcomed. Instead of teaching lessons about free speech, free expression, the Bill of Rights, and the Charter of Rights, principals and superintendents routinely impose arbitrary rules and punishments….
Swinimer’s t-shirt expresses a moronic and wrong sentiment, and he sounds like the typical evangelical jerk who can’t keep quiet about his own “good news.” But when he says, “I believe this is worth standing up for — it’s not just standing up for religious rights, it’s standing up for my rights as a Canadian citizen, for freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” he’s absolutely right.
Superintendent Pynch-Worthlake could have turned this into a teaching moment. She could explain that in a multicultural society there will be people who assert that their religion is the only valid one, and that’s the way life is. She could explain that the Charter guarantees “freedom of thought, opinion, and expression,” and even though she disagrees with Swinimer’s sentiment, she defends his right to express it in a non-disruptive way.
Instead, she took the authoritarian route. Shame on her.
[UPDATE] A reader who is not from the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater writes:
It’s obvious Jeffrey Shallit does not live in the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater, because if he did, he’d know that no matter how strongly you felt it, you’d never say anything like this: “Swinimer’s t-shirt expresses a moronic and wrong sentiment, and he sounds like the typical evangelical jerk who can’t keep quiet about his own ‘good news.'” Because the fall-out from evangelicals, of which there are many who attend Baptist, Pentecostal, and break-away Protestant churches in the Bible Belt of Nova Scotia, would not be worth it. Shallit, safe from the wrath of God in Waterloo.