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Catholic World News News Feature

Ontario High School Student Suspended Over Pro-Life Shirt November 12, 2001

ST THOMAS, Ontario, Nov 12, 01 (LSN.ca/CWNews.com) - A Canadian high school has suspended a grade 11 student for wearing a pro-life shirt that was deemed offensive.

Lisa Klassen, a student at Central Elgin Collegiate in St Thomas, Ontario, was given an "unofficial suspension" from school for wearing a pro-life shirt. Klassen was sent home by principal Ele Gibling who told the 16-year-old that some people found the shirt offensive. The front of the "Rock for Life" sweatshirt reads, "Abortion is Mean" and on the back it says, "You will not silence my message; You will not mock my God; You will stop killing my generation."

Klassen was resolute in not caving in and has contacted a lawyer from her church to defend her. "I feel so strongly that abortion is wrong," she said. Klassen said she has been back to the school since her October 25 suspension-- not wearing the shirt-- and was warned that if she wore the shirt again she would face increasingly long suspensions. During her suspension some 50 students at the school held a protest at which many wore shirts with the same pro-life message. She said that a dress code which forbids offensive clothing is in place at the school but is not enforced and she has on numerous occasions seen shirts that she, as an Evangelical Christian, would find offensive.

A similar case over a "Rock for Life" shirt in Malone, New York, was resolved in recent weeks after intervention by the Thomas More Law Center. Bryan Kemper director of Rock for Life said those wearing the shirts only wish to spread the pro-life message and that the school has helped spread the message by making "such a big stink."

Indeed, Klassen's message has spread to the whole country as newspapers from as far as New Brunswick have carried the story, and Klassen was interviewed by the CBC in addition to extensive coverage in her local newspaper. When she returned to class after her suspension, the editor of the student newspaper asked her to write a short essay for the school paper, but once written, it was not allowed to be printed even alongside an essay with an opposing view. However, the local paper published the essay and LifeSite has also published Klassen's short essay with her permission. (http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2001/nov/011109a.html)

School Board Superintendent Lorayne Robertson 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."

The Catholic Civil Rights League reacted to the news with disbelief. Phil Horgan, a lawyer with the League 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 public."

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