Last year, one of my friends posted a video on facebook excoriating everyone who did not wear a mask in public. I wrote this friend a letter explaining that his statements were very wrong and very hurtful. We never received a response from this friend, but he did soften his tone shortly thereafter. With the current rise in cases, I have seen several other friends make statements about masks that are similar to what this other friend said last year, and I have decided to share publicly the letter that I wrote to him. Here is the text of that letter:
I watched your video from this past week, and you said some things that I find very disturbing. The most shocking of those statements was your claim that
"You have no right to come to me and breathe on me or breathe on anyone not knowing whether or not you have Covid."
I am sure that you meant well in saying this, but the implications of this statement convey a very dangerous and unbiblical philosophy.
I'm sure you know that my wife and I do not wear masks, but perhaps you are unaware of all of our reasons for refusing to do so. Shortly after our son was born, my wife suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that left her entire right side paralyzed. She has regained the use of that side, but it is a constant struggle for her. We eventually learned that she has an inoperable AVM in her left temple and that she could have additional strokes during any period of stress or exertion. You are, of course, familiar with how dangerous a stroke can be. My wife and I live with the constant knowledge that she could suffer a debilitating or even deadly stroke at any moment. My wife also suffers from asthma which developed after a bout of pneumonia that she endured as a child in Japan. This combination of an AVM and asthma, makes wearing a mask extremely dangerous for my wife.
We were not always aware of this danger. When the mask orders were first issued, we attempted to comply with them in spite of the fact that Gov. Ivey has no legal authority to issue such mandates. As a result, my wife suffered an attack that left her entire right side numb. We learned through a very dangerous trial-and-error experiment that wearing a mask could literally kill my wife, and we decided at that point that we would not comply with the illegal mask orders.
You are probably not aware that my wife passed out after giving blood on Sunday, October 11th. She has given blood several times since her stroke with no problems, but for some reason, this time was different. Passing out from giving blood is not an unusual occurrence, and the average individual can recover from it in less than a day. My wife is still recovering from this ordeal more than a week later. I've had to help her with basic tasks that most people take for granted. I've had to help her bathe, get dressed, walk from one place in the house to another, and etc. We have not asked for any assistance or for anyone's pity. This is a semi-normal occurrence in our lives, and I only bring it to your attention to help you understand the backdrop against which we listened to your video.
After five days of intense physical difficulty, my wife heard [her friend] tell her that she doesn't even deserve to breathe the same air as him. Now, I know that you didn't mean for your statement to come across that harshly, but that really is what you said. You looked directly into the camera and told my wife (who was already suffering immensely) that she has no right to be in your presence unless she is willing to risk her life by wearing a mask. Regardless of your intentions, that statement was very hurtful and very wrong.
You do not own the air that my wife breathes. You do not even own the air that you breathe. The only one who can claim ownership of the air is God. If I need to, I can prove that point by expounding on John Locke's labor theory of property and providing scriptural confirmation of Locke's theory, but I think that you already have an instinctive understanding of that fact. No one apart from God Himself has the right to deny another person the free use of the air to breathe, and the right to breathe necessarily includes the right to exhale. If you are afraid of another person's exhalations, you do not have the right to force them to stop breathing on you. Your only moral course of action is to run away and hide in some private location. You have no right to demand that someone stop breathing on you. That right belongs to God and to God alone.
One of the things that triggers my wife’s asthma is cigarette smoke. When a smoker comes into the church and sits close to us, my wife has a difficult time breathing, and there have been times when she has had to leave the auditorium for her own safety. If this were to happen in our next service, it would be both ridiculous and wrong for me to turn to the smoker and demand that he leave the service because he is making my wife sick. I do not have the right to tell such an individual that his right to stink ends where my wife’s nose begins. It would be wrong for me to tell him that he has no right to come into the church and sit next to someone without knowing whether or not the stench of his smoke infused clothing will trigger an asthma attack. That is not how a Christian should respond to such a situation, and I’m certain that if I were to have such a response, I would be rebuked strongly by the other members of the church.
If you sincerely believe that my wife threatens your health by merely breathing in your presence, that no more gives you the right to tell her that her rights end where your nose begins than cigarette smoke triggering my wife’s asthma gives us the right to demand that smokers be banned from attending the services.
Please understand that it is not our intent to put anyone at risk during this time. If either of us were to actually contract the virus, we would not spread it around among other people. However, there is an old saying that applies well to this situation. “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” We will do our part to protect people from any disease that we may contract, but it is unquestionably wrong for you to demand that we risk my wife’s life just so that you and others can have the warmth of seeing us wear masks. That is a line that we will not cross even if it means [losing your friendship].
Thank you for your time and consideration.
I hope that the contents of this letter have helped you understand this issue better. If you are one who insists that people have a moral duty to wear masks during this time, I hope that this letter has opened your eyes to the fact that your view is both wrong and hurtful toward many of those around you.
For those wondering about Locke's labor theory of property, here is a brief outline that I presented as part of a Sunday School Lesson on that topic:
I. The biblical model of private property is essentially the same as the Labor Theory of Property proposed by John Locke.
1. Locke himself claimed to have developed this idea from studying Scripture
2. Locke argued that the whole world was public property when it was first created.
3. He then said that a piece of fruit that no one owns obviously becomes the property of an individual when it is eaten and is made part of that individual’s body.
4. Thus, the labor of taking and eating a piece of fruit made it someone’s property.
5. He then applied this theory of property to all labor that is done on things in the world.
6. Those who perform the labor have ownership over the product of their labor and they can either keep it for themselves or sell it to become the property of someone else.
7. Those who labor in exchange for wages are essentially selling the property produced by their labor to the one who pays their wages.
II. This theory of property explains biblical passages like Deut 23:24-25
1. Ownership of land is based on the labor of cultivation.
2. The cultivator did not make the fruit grow. He made it grow in abundance and thus has ownership of that abundance, but the land would have produced some amount of fruit even without his labor, and that fruit would have been available for anyone.
3. In this case, the fruit one takes in passing is like the wild squirrel or rabbit one may kill on his neighbor's land and take for his own meat.
(a) The wild animal does not belong to anyone until it is taken by some man's labor, but the domesticated animal is itself the product of much labor in breeding and raising.
(b) Thus, even today, we instinctively recognize that the natural product of the land belongs to everyone while the product produced by labor belongs to the one who bestowed that labor.
4. Since it is impossible to say which piece of fruit was the product of labor and which would have been produced by the land naturally, God advised the Jews that they should allow any man to eat of the fruit of any field.
5. But only the owner whose labor of cultivation had caused the field to produce abundantly had the right to gather that abundance through additional labor.
III. No nation has ever passed a law stating that everything which exists within the boundaries of a plot of land belongs to the owner of that land.
1. At the very least, all nations recognize that no man owns the air over his land to such a degree that he can force people to pay for the right to breathe while walking through his fields.
2. Why not? Because no one can claim to have produced that air through his own labor.
3. It is public property that God has made available to all men.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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