Let’s slow down on ostracizing, condemning or firing those who voice their opinion about masks, vaccines or parental choice.

Consider what happened recently in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, when Dr. Jeff Horak lost his job after he spoke at a school board meeting, urging parental freedom on deciding whether students should wear masks at school.

“This mandate across the board, that’s a tough place to go,” Horak told the board on Oct. 11. “Who does God put in charge of their kids? Their parents. God gave each one of these kids to their parents. Their parents speak for them, and they may be wrong, dumb or perfect in their decision-making, but it's still their responsibility. It's their responsibility, not yours.”

His comments were applauded by many in attendance and have been quoted often in the weeks since.

Due to a clause in his contract, Horak and his former employer can’t discuss details about why he’s no longer at the Fergus Falls hospital. The head of the hospital’s Medical Group Board said the decision about Horak was made by peer doctors who serve on the board and “not by Lake Region Healthcare.”

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Either way, Horak is out. A few days after the school board meeting, he said he was informed he could either resign or be terminated; he chose the latter.

Not surprisingly, many in Fergus Falls have rallied around him. On Monday, Oct. 25, upward of 300 people gathered outside the hospital in protest.

And we’re left to wonder: What has happened to freedom of speech? What has happened to voicing dissenting opinions, and peacefully at that?

Horak wasn’t some wild-eyed firebrand at the board meeting, but simply stepped to the podium to politely voice his opinion. Apparently, he’s out of a job because of it.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Numerous entities – ranging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic and the North Dakota Department of Health – say wearing a mask helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But should Horak have been fired for voicing his opinion at a board meeting?

We don’t see it, and we worry this is treading on dangerous ground, not only as the pandemic and the opposing views on COVID-19 continue ad infinitum, but as all things political seem to be boiling in America.

To us, it doesn’t sound as if Horak was speaking for the hospital in general, but just adding his voice to a debate that is consuming so many communities across the region. It was his opinion, and it concerned “parental freedom.” That’s something we all should be able to discuss.

“I wouldn’t do it differently,” Horak recently said in an interview with WDAY.

He shouldn’t have to. If he broke some written policy by voicing his thoughts at the board meeting, a lesser punishment would have sufficed.

Horak didn’t verbally attack anyone. He didn’t resort to name-calling or any sort of derogatory speech or action that embarrassed his employers. From what we have seen, he simply advocated for parental choice on masks.

If he lost his job over that, it seems harsh and shows a lack of empathy for his personal beliefs. Further, it’s an example of what can happen when people simply have no patience for differing views.

This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.