Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley wrote a message Thursday to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, calling on them to reprimand Canada for the country’s restrictions of religious freedom during the pandemic.
Hawley cited “numerous instances” of the Canadian government arresting and jailing pastors who held worship services that did not comply with COVID-19 restrictions. Widely publicized incidents include the arrests of both Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary and Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Spruce Grove for continuing to hold worship services throughout the pandemic.
“I am troubled that our Canadian neighbors are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship,” the Missouri Republican wrote. “Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada. 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.”
Hawley described how a “heartbreaking video” showed Pastor Stephens children “sobbing as they held their father’s hand through the barred window of a police car.” (RELATED: Polish Pastor Who Went Viral For Kicking Police Out Of Church Arrested For Holding ‘Illegal’ Religious Service)
“Pastor Stephens’ alleged violation was holding an outdoor worship service in a park, which was apparently discovered by a police helicopter flying overhead,” the senator wrote.
“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,” Hawley said. “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.”
In early May, Pastor Artur Pawlowski of the Street Church in Alberta, Canada was also arrested and charged with organizing an “illegal in-person gathering” and “requesting, inciting or inviting others” to join the gathering. (RELATED: Video Shows Cops Cracking Down On ‘Illegal’ Gathering Of Six People In Canada)
“It is important to understand that law enforcement recognizes people’s desire to participate in faith-based gatherings as well as the right to protest. However, as we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, we all must comply with public health orders in order to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing,” the Calgary Police Service said in a statement at the time.
A video of the pastor had previously gone viral when police officers interrupted a Passover celebration at his Alberta church and Pastor Pawlowski yelled at the officers until they left.
“I grew up in Poland under the boot of the Soviets, behind the Iron Curtain,” Pawlowski previously told The Daily Caller. “What I see right now, I see everything escalating and moving to the new level. They’re acting just like the Communists were acting when I was growing up when the pastors and the priests were arrested, and some were murdered. Many were tortured.”
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