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Annapolis Valley Register - 2021-11-25

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Pastor-bashing over the top in wake of COVID fine

CREATING PORTRAITS AFFORDABLE HOUSING

GEORGE BARRON GUEST OPINION

Most of us have heard the Voltaire quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” As an advocate of free speech, I want to defend Pastor Robert Smith of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst, which is at the centre of a controversy over a faith gathering linked to a COVID outbreak. Why is Pastor Smith being pilloried? He broke the rules and has been issued a fine. Isn’t that enough? Why does Premier Tim Houston think he can lose his cool and rant about him publicly? The editorial, column and cartoon that filled the front page of The Chronicle Herald’s Nov. 20 Weekend Opinion section were an allout attack against him. I believe this is because of what he said. Less than two years ago, we lived in a country where religious freedom, the right to assembly and the right to make your own medical decisions — not to mention freedom of speech — were unassailable because they are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two years ago, the law that Pastor Smith has just broken had never been imagined, let alone written, and the vaccine hadn’t been invented. These new public health directives can only be upheld because the government has declared a state of emergency, precisely so it could enforce restrictions that would normally be against the Charter. This is a temporary law — even Premier Houston would agree with that. It just represents somebody’s best guess of what might help slow down virus transmission. It is no big deal. People like columnist Gail Lethbridge want to make it a big deal. She suggests Pastor Smith could be charged with criminal negligence causing death. However, what really irked her was his use of the word “but,” in his Sunday sermon. I agree with her that “but” is a weasel word — like the last time the premier blew his cool and said: “I believe in the right to protest, but …” It makes you wonder if he really believes it. I agree the word “but” doesn’t belong in an apology, but who says everyone who breaks a law has to make a public apology? The premier may have temporarily removed the right to free assembly and the right to make your own medical decisions, but last I heard, we still have freedom of speech. Pastor Smith can say whatever he likes. As for the right to protest, civil disobedience is an acceptable form of it — just think of Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. Pastor Smith had no intent of spreading a disease; his purpose was only to congregate with his community. That doesn’t seem at all nefarious, or surprising, in these difficult times. He had no knowledge that someone in his community had the virus. He said it is unfortunate that people are dying from this disease, showing he has empathy, and I would note, he isn’t trying to vilify whoever spread it to his community. I see no moral failing in his actions. Ms. Lethbridge also thinks his fine was too small, as does the premier. My guess is $2,422 would represent at least a month’s income for half of all Nova Scotians. That’s a pretty good disincentive. As for Bruce MacKinnon’s Nov. 20 cartoon, it depicts a religious person who doesn’t want to get vaccinated failing to stop at a crosswalk, striking a pedestrian and laying it all at God’s feet. I know his aim is humour, but the implication is unfair and unfounded. By the way, the fine for not stopping at a crosswalk is $500, and that’s a permanent law that could withstand a Charter challenge. Something obvious is being overlooked. The virus transmission that took place could have happened in a setting that was deemed legal. It could have happened in a vaccinated crowd, or if only 25 people had turned up at the event. In which case, Pastor Smith would be blameless. Trying to identify the contagious should be our focus, not who is vaccinated and who isn’t. Certainly, it shouldn’t be trying to find scapegoats when we, collectively, fail at finding the contagious. Until now, no one has tried to blame COVID deaths on anyone who might have been able to slow the spread of the disease. Half the deaths in this pandemic stemmed from a single incident at Northwood seniors home. Before the government officials start throwing stones, they should take a look at themselves. This faithbased event, in comparison, was a pretty small failure. Last, can we try to stop dividing Nova Scotians? How will that help? George Barron lives in Bear River.

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