Lisa Klassen, a Grade 11 student at Central Elgin Collegiate in St Thomas, Ont., was given an “unofficial suspension” for wearing a pro-life shirt that said, “Abortion is mean.”
Klassen was sent home by principal Ele Gibling, who told the 16-year-old that some people found the shirt offensive. Klassen told The Interim that two days before the Oct. 25 suspension, the vice principal told her several students and parents had complained about the shirt, which is distributed by Rock for Life. The back of the shirt says: “You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation.”
In support of Klassen, about 50 students wore similar shirts, mostly home-made versions, as part of a silent protest. “What was the school going to do?” Klassen asked. “Suspend everyone?”
Klassen has since worn the shirt again at school on several occasions despite threats by the school administration that each subsequent time she did so, the suspensions would become longer. Thus far, the school has not re-disciplined her. She promises that if they do, she will continue to fight it. “I’m not going to stop wearing this shirt. I’m not going to stop telling people that abortion is wrong.”
Klassen reports that her parents are supportive of her and that they were not upset with her for being suspended. “They support me in voicing my view that abortion is wrong.”
Klassen, who attends Eastwood Baptist church in St. Thomas, complains that she is being discriminated against, since the school dress code that forbids offensive clothing does not result in disciplinary action for those who wear shirts that promote sex, alcohol or violent rock bands. She has on numerous occasions seen shirts that she, as an evangelical Christian, finds offensive.
School Board superintendent Lorayne Robertson defended her principal’s decision. She told the Canadian Press, “In a public school, the focus is on learning and what’s happening in class. It’s not a forum for promotion of a cause.” Phil Horgan, a lawyer with the Catholic Civil Rights League dismissed such buffoonery. He said, “We would like to think that subject to untrue, blasphemous or derogatory messages on shirts, those which proclaim the truth are part of a vigorous discourse in the public.”
Klassen said that the controversy surrounding her suspension – local media coverage was picked up by papers across the country and she was interviewed by the CBC – “forced people to take a look at the issue when they didn’t want to.”
Bryan Kemper, founder and director of Rock for Life, told The Interim, that this and similar controversies have sparked debate about abortion and, not surprisingly, increase demand for their shirts.
Thus far, the pro-life youth have successfully defended their right to wear their shirts. A similar case over another Rock for Life shirt in Malone New York was resolved in November after the intervention of the Thomas More Law Center. The school district back down from their claim that the message “Abortion is homicide” is offensive after the center cited constitutional arguments and similar cases that schools and school boards had lost.
Kemper said Rock for Life has assists American students who are harassed for wearing this shirt.
“When we began this we knew it would get some people upset,” he said. “But we never expected that students would be harassed for expressing the truth about abortion.”