OPINION: On individual rights versus community health

Using freedom as an excuse to gather in this pandemic illustrates a staggering degree of selfishness

Paul Henderson.

Paul Henderson.

What is more important: The absolute freedom of individuals to do as they please, or the safety and health of the community?

It’s an unfair question, really, because every day out in the public realm governments and individuals try to find a balance.

We have the freedom to purchase any type of vehicle we want, but our collective laws order us to obey speed limits and wear seatbelts.

We can say whatever we want according to the laws of free speech, but we can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre or threaten someone’s life, also according to our laws.

The push and pull of liberty, and the carrot and stick of public health has been causing serious angst for many months as we negotiate through a pandemic, a shared human experience not seen in a century.

We are, also, wracked with a cognitive dissonance almost daily as we are given advice and directives by experts and scientists and leaders, guidance that often goes against that which we would prefer to do.

READ MORE: OPINION: The call for full-scale economic reopening is an argument to cull the herd

READ MORE: BC Court of Appeal left to walk tightrope of freedom of expression in Neufeld-Hansman case

Hammered with inconvenient truths about where we can go, what we can do and with whom, some people are chasing misinformation and outright lies with the hope that maybe, just maybe, all the media, all the politicians, and the entire health community are in cahoots and are lying to us.

We see people who should know better, who are tricked hook, line and sinker by the lies of the day: COVID is a government conspiracy; the United Nations is out to control our lives; masks don’t work; vaccines are meant for population control; or one of the worst ones, “Where are the bodies?”

Beyond conspiracies, the latest and most vociferous debate has surrounded mask use and public gatherings.

If you believe all mainstream media and the medical community are out to get you, you likely didn’t read this far anyway. But more and more people with zero expertise are insisting that B.C.’s chief public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and others are wrong.

It seems ludicrous to hear and see the things said on social media, lie after repeated lie, links to spurious sources, poisoned by confirmation bias. People predisposed to being tricked are sent down internet rabbit holes, and those who consciously want this all to be a lie, repeat and repeat the nonsense, and the fallacies are fuelled.

Governments and public health officials across the world are not in cahoots, nor are they addressing this global pandemic perfectly. They are all struggling to tackle a problem that is the first of its kind in any modern human’s lifetime.

The mainstream media also isn’t getting it perfect, none of us ever do, but we try to share the information relayed by experts and explain the (often confusing) orders given by governments. But we aren’t lying to you.

We are trying to find the balance between reporting what is objectively newsworthy (daily COVID numbers, outbreaks, etc.) with positive stories and good news, without creating fear nor pretending that we aren’t living in global pandemic that has changed all of our lives. Balance is not easy.

This past week, much attention has been given to two Lower Mainland churches that decided to defy the latest public health order banning indoor gatherings.

READ MORE: Two Chilliwack churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

While the frustration among worshippers is palpable and understandable, their decision does not properly balance individual rights with community safety, in my opinion.

It’s disappointing to see this absolute and conscious selfishness, this use of misinformation, of confusion, of confirmation bias, by a small group of people who just want to do what they want to do, despite the health risks they perpetuate.

Finding excuses in the charter or “God’s plan” or religious rights to violate the overriding public health law of the land isn’t just intellectually lazy, it makes a mockery of the vast majority of church groups across British Columbia who understand that now is not the time to be selfish.

“Faith is not a building,” Dr. Henry said on Monday, Dec. 7. “It is not about Sunday mornings, it is about every day. It’s not about rights, it’s about community.”

Almost every worship group in B.C. is respectful and understands this, so, again, it takes a staggering degree of selfishness to decide to gather when no one else is and when it’s objectively in the community’s disinterest.

Paul Henderson covers crime, business and politics for The Chilliwack Progress.

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