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Cemetery bench decision has further implications

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Taber Times

However noble the intent has been with the issue presented to town council over the possible removal of benches at the local cemetery, because of the Taber Pro-Life name on them, the 5-2 decision to leave them in has opened up town council to a flood of like-minded initiatives.

As reported on The Times’ front page this week, the town received complaints requesting the removal of benches promoting Taber Pro-Life in the local cemetery, which have been dismissed by town council, following a 5-2 split vote.

The benches in question have been in place for approximately eight years, on concrete pads on the north side of the cemetery, and have the words “Taber Pro-Life” inscribed in large lettering on their edges, which can be easily observed by individuals visiting that area of the cemetery.

Having something donated free of charge by the Taber Pro-Life association to the town so that people can take a break while visiting their departed loved ones should be applauded. But the slippery slope comes in where they branded the benches in question with their moniker, a moniker that has had a long history of being a political hot potato between two factions of the Pro-Life versus Pro Choice movements in the arena of legislation involving reproductive rights, and whether such a super-charged, passionate issue has its place in such a personal and private place like a cemetery.

It paints town council into a corner where they can be seen as not being able to win either way.

Would a donated, inscribed Pro-Choice bench be allowed into the cemetery, or any other ideology for that matter, like say a Progressive Conservative/Liberal/NDP party bench?

If not, and council picks and chooses what is let in, is that not showing personal beliefs creeping into council decisions when councillors are supposed to be of the people who elected them, not just themselves or certain people?

Some logic by councillors suggest if the Pro-Life benches are removed, where does it stop, as there are plenty of donated structures around town in which the organization that has donated it, has its name printed on it.

But where the comparison falls short is comparing an organization like Pro-Life to a service group.

An organization like The Lion’s Club or Kinsmen Club are pushing no segregated belief system other than filling service gaps in society to help the disadvantaged.

If town council does keep an open mind and lets any donated piece of infrastructure onto town-owned land with the donator’s logo/inscription on it because of their recent decision, regardless if it has an ideological slant or not, does that not conflict with the protocol the town has of achieving sponsorship dollars with town-owned assets Taber is currently struggling with the firm Sponsorship Connections? And if there is a big influx of allowances, will the messages be appropriate in the avenues they are displayed in?

Given it has been eight years since a complaint surfaced of the appropriateness of the Pro-Life benches at the local cemetery, maybe in the end it will be much ado about nothing.

But it would be naive to think that the recent 5-2 council decision to leave them in does not leave council vulnerable to all sorts of interpretation by vested special interest groups on what is appropriate to put where on town-owned land.

Were the benches kept in the cemetery by council out of gratitude to the donating organization despite the complaints, or were they kept with a clear-cut ideological stance in mind as evident by some impassioned remarks from some on council?

The litmus test will come if any future ideologically-driven organization offers up similar offerings like the Pro-Life benches and town council gives the yay or nay to them. Either decision can lead to its own set of headaches.

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