In the U.S., local health officials have seen courts declare their COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings in religious schools and churches unconstitutional. But, shockingly, our Canadian neighbors have experienced government “enforcement” of similar restrictions by police barricades and lock-outs of churches, arrests of pastors, and now, by police helicopters circling overhead, looking for worshipping churches meeting together in secret locations.
The principle that religious freedom is the highest human right – next to the right to life – has been shattered by recent news reports of Canadian police actions against churches. And the realization of just how fragile religious freedom has become in the West has been sobering. The most recent report from Alberta is by far the most ominous.
Rebel News reports that Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary has been arrested for a second time for conducting worship services in violation of Alberta’s onerous restrictions on church gatherings. The Daily Citizen has previously reported on Stephens’ clashes with Alberta health officials, which resulted in the government closing the church building, in addition to Stephens’ arrest.
Stephens and his flock were undeterred by the government closure of their church. They just found a new place to meet. But authorities were equally undeterred in their efforts to shut down religious freedom.
A police helicopter was seen approaching the site of the church’s worship this past Sunday at an undisclosed location, followed by the approach of police vehicles. The police did not attempt to shut down worship or arrest anyone in attendance, but they showed up at Pastor Stephens’ home on Monday and arrested him in front of his family. In the Rebel News video of the arrest, viewed on Twitter over 160,000 times since then, Stephens’ children are shown clinging to him and crying as the officers surround him and take him away.
“He was arrested for hosting an illegal outdoor gathering that did not comply with current restrictions,” police said in an email to CBC News, correcting an earlier release which said Stephens had conducted a sermon inside the church.
Churches in Alberta are currently limited to one-third of their maximum fire code occupancy, according to local health officials. Stephens has previously attempted to explain on the church’s blog why he believes the Alberta government has overstepped its authority with regard to restrictions on church attendance.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the police action are reports that Stephens and Fairview Baptist have been the subject of public complaints to the authorities from the church’s neighbors. Being turned in by fellow citizens for conducting worship services is not a situation that inhabitants of western-style democracies are used to experiencing. The reality is chilling.
Churches in Canada continue to organize against the heavy-handed efforts of the provincial governments to close them down. Please continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Alberta and elsewhere throughout Canada.
Screenshot from Rebel News