Few things get readers more riled than stories about an individual trampling over majority rights.
That’s a facetious way of putting it, perhaps. And yet, while one of the primary mandates of a democracy is to protect minorities from mob rule, it’s often the mob that plays the victim card.
On Saturday, The Telegram carried a story by Barb Sweet about a St. John’s man who is questioning the presence of Catholic iconography at St. Clare’s Hospital. Specifically, some of the walls still contain crucifixes, and a statue of the institution’s namesake stands in one corner of the lobby.
He says the symbols make some people uncomfortable and he wants them removed once an agreement between the government and the original owners of the hospital, the Sisters of Mercy, expires in 2015.
Cue the backlash.
The Telegram’s website filled with comments, the vast majority of which condemned the man for making a mountain out of a molehill. Many identified themselves as non-Catholics. A number of letters to the editor have also trickled in.
It’s instructive to look at the issue from the point of view of school reform. Schools, after all, have also come under fire. St. Matthews Elementary in St. John’s recently removed a large cross from the outside after a parent complained about the Christian symbolism.
Some may say these solo crusaders are simply intransigent.
But intransigence is a funny thing.
One lesson for churches that arose from the abolition of denominational education in 1998 is that if you’re not willing to give an inch, don’t expect to be offered one later.
In 1995, the Clyde Wells government offered churches an olive branch. He called a referendum on denominational schools. But under the proposed changes, churches would still have input in the administration, and be able to keep one-faith schools in locations where need and consensus was established.
But after the yes vote won, the Catholic and Pentecostal churches would not bend. Along with a handful of individual parents, they challenged the application of the new law in court, and won an injunction. In his decision, Judge Leo Barry ruled that denominational schools were being closed without proper consent. Education reform was hopelessly stalled.
Within weeks, Brian Tobin, who by then was premier, announced a new referendum. This time, there was no middle ground. There would be no church involvement in schools. The reform was endorsed by a majority of citizens.
Again the Catholic Church launched a legal challenge, to no avail. A church official was even forced to admit in court that an internal poll showed 79 per cent of Catholics supported reform.
So, is the shoe on the other foot now?
Not really. Because while churches no longer wield any power over public schools, few people want to throw out every vestige of their long devotion to education in this province.
But is there an element of bitterness in the way some people now show little respect for religious icons?