Hawley Condemns Canada's Arrest of Church Leaders; Asks U.S. for Support

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley on Thursday made an official plea to U.S. authorities to condemn Canada's restrictions on religious freedom during the pandemic.

In a letter to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Republican congressman expressed his deep concern that religious freedom is "in peril across our nation's northern border." He highlighted the arresting and jailing of pastors who have held worship services that weren't in compliance with the country's COVID-19 restrictions, specifically mentioning Pastor Tim Stephens of Calgary's Fairview Baptist Church and Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton. Both continued to hold worship services during the pandemic.

"Canadian authorities' arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement activities, appear to constitute systematic, ongoing and egregious violation of religious freedom," said Hawley. "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."

NEW — Sen. Josh Hawley is urging the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider adding Canada to its watch list after pastors have been arrested and jailed for holding worship services that do not comply with strict COVID restrictions. pic.twitter.com/VKWHMmfupb

— Senator Hawley Press Office (@SenHawleyPress) June 24, 2021

In the memo, Hawley noted the June 14 arrest of Pastor Stephens at his home in front of his wife and children after being previously arrested in May. During the more recent incident, media outlets captured footage of his children sobbing as they held their father's hand through the barred window of a police car. According to Hawley, Stephens' alleged violation was holding an outdoor worship service in a park. Coates and other Canadian pastors have faced similar arrests and enforcement. In the case of Coates' GraceLife Church, authorities seized and fenced off the church's building in April, which sparked protests by hundreds of people.

"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 senator wrote. "Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada."

BREAKING: Pastor Tim Stephens Arrested On New Charges
FULL STORY: https://t.co/mJUy79i2jU
FULL VIDEO COMING SOON at https://t.co/w9zAH1MOnX pic.twitter.com/MH1Sx9uuZF

— Adam Soos ⳩ (@ATSoos) June 14, 2021

According to the Canadian legal advocacy organization Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, Fairview Baptist congregants were forced to worship outside because Alberta Health Services (AHS) locked them out of their building.

Stephens is charged with "alleged failure or refusal to comply with a Court Order."

In May, Pastor Arthur Pawlowski of the Street Church in Alberta was also arrested, along with his brother, for organizing and holding "an illegal in-person gathering" and "requesting, inciting or inviting others" to join them, according to the Calgary Police Service.

Pawlowski, who is Polish, drew parallels between the arrest and incidents he witnessed while growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Poland.

As of June 23, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Canada had reached over 1.4 million with most cases found in Ontario and Quebec. While a sharp fall in cases was recorded in early 2021, the country experienced a third wave of infection in March 2021.

"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," said Hawley in his letter.

In response to Newsweek's request for comment, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said, "We received Senator Josh Hawley's letter and are looking into it."

Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) listens while Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the second day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty