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Sen. Hawley urges USCIRF to add Canada to Watch List, says religious freedom is 'in peril'

Senator Josh Hawley
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. |

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has urged the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider placing Canada on its Watch List due to its continued lockdown restrictions, arrests of Christian pastors and seizure of church property. 

Hawley called out what he deems as the government's “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom,” adding that he's deeply concerned that “freedom is in peril across our nation’s northern border."

Some congregations in Canada have seen the forced closure of church buildings, arrests of pastors, in addition to stiff fines and jail time for church leaders over their defiance of authorities' ongoing lockdown orders in response to COVID-19. 

Many have contended that secular entities, non-Christian religious gatherings and protesters have also gathered in large numbers but haven't faced similar penalties.

In his letter to the USCIRF, Hawley added, “I am troubled that our Canadian neighbors are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship."

“Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada,” he continued. “Canadian authorities’ arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement actions, appear to constitute systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

He asked the Commission to address the situation and consider adding Canada to its Watch List for these violations of religious freedom. 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan federal commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion worldwide. 

Hawley mentioned Canadian Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary and Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Spruce Grove, Alberta, as examples of faith leaders who've been arrested and jailed for holding worship services in defiance of ongoing COVID-19 gathering restrictions. 

Stephens was arrested for holding an outdoor worship service after authorities ordered the church building to close its doors. 

Tim Stephens
Tim Stephens, the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, speaks during a sermon in June 2020. |

Police arrested him earlier this month in front of his tearful eight children after an outdoor worship gathering was discovered by a police helicopter flying above. 

Stephens was previously arrested for holding a church service that did not “comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits.”

Coates of GraceLife Church in Canada has also faced arrest for breaking COVID-19  gathering restrictions. 

His church was subsequently fenced off by Alberta Health Services to prevent Sunday worship gatherings

A judge recently ruled that the actions taken against Coates did not violate his religious freedom despite his claim that the government's restrictions were unconstitutional. 

Artur Pawlowski
Artur Pawlowski |

Artur Pawlowski, the pastor of Street Church and Cave of Adullam Church in Calgary, Alberta, accused the Canadian government of a “double standard” in a recent interview with The Christian Post. 

Pawlowski asserted that law enforcement repeatedly descended on his church services but allowed mosques to remain "fully operational.” 

“Not one Imam was being harassed or intimidated. And to this day, there’s not one Imam or one Muslim that has a ticket, even though we have video evidence and pictures [of] them gathering even recently through the whole Ramadan by the thousands,” he added. Pawlowski’s YouTube channel includes a video of a gathering of thousands of Muslims that took place on the last day of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar.

Pawlowski had been arrested along with his brother for violating gathering restrictions. 

He said he had received 29 COVID-19 tickets, three court orders, two injunctions and two court contempt trials over the past year. 

“I’m not afraid of what I believe in; the Bible is filled with people that have resisted authorities, evil authorities, from the very beginning to the very end,” Pawlowski said as he described the mistreatment he has endured due to his defiance to the government’s gathering restrictions. 

Hawley noted that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “[e]veryone has the following fundamental freedoms,” which include the “freedom of conscience and religion.” 

He claimed Canada’s actions to “enforce overly burdensome and unjustified orders” do not live up to the charter’s “praiseworthy statement.”

“I urge the Commission on International Religious Freedom to take whatever action is necessary to address and rectify this situation, and consider adding Canada to the Commission’s Watch List.”

Last year, Hawley similarly urged the Department of Justice to bring federal lawsuits to defend the rights of houses of worship under “burdened by unjust restrictions.” 

Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: emily.wood@christianpost.com

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