Josh Hawley demands Canada be added to religious freedom watch list

In Alberta, Canada, some pastors were arrested after openly defying COVID-19 restriction, and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri is claiming that the pastors, James Coates and Tim Stephens, were victims of religious persecution and is asking the Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider placing Canada on a special watch list.

In a letter sent on June 26, the far-right GOP senator wrote, “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.”

Coates has argued that COVID-19-related social distancing restrictions enacted in the province of Alberta, which is east of British Columbia, were a violation of the freedom of religion that he is promised under the Canadian constitution.

Bob Weber, a reporter for the Canadian Press, explains, “Mr. Coates spent a month in the Edmonton Remand Centre after he violated a bail condition not to hold church services that officials said were ignoring COVID-19 measures on capacity limits, physical distancing and masking. He was released March 22 after pleading guilty and was fined $1500.”

Weber notes that Stephens “remains in remand after being arrested last week following repeated public complaints over an outdoor service that officials say broke public-health orders.”

“Calgary police and Alberta Health Services allege that Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church chose to keep holding services without respecting orders on physical distancing and capacity limits, even after his church had been twice ordered closed,” Weber reports.

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