“Our concern is that maybe this is just a small preview about what myself and other pastors will face in this country, as we continue to experience … a change in the view of the world that is leaving behind … our Christian heritage and roots, and really a view of the world now that sees Christian morality and ethics as hostile, as dangerous,” Stephens told The Epoch Times on Wednesday.
Over the past months, a number of pastors in the province of Alberta have been arrested for defying the Alberta Health Service’s (AHS) public health orders. Stephens was arrested after giving a Sunday sermon at the Calgary’s Fairview Baptist Church on May 16. A week earlier, pastor Artur Pawlowski and his brother, David Pawlowski, were both arrested after holding a church service; and pastor James Coates of Edmonton’s GraceLife Church was detained in February.
Stephens said the arrests go against the “very ideas and truth that are taught in scripture.” Though the government has not specifically targeted Christians, he said the events bring alive the Biblical records of the persecution of Christians in the Roman province of Judea, which has only strengthened his congregation’s belief in God.
He added that the basic structure of the Canadian society, including the Charter Rights and fundamental freedoms, all stem from the Christian Scripture.
The AHS dropped the Contempt of Court Application against Stephens, meaning it will not be going to a hearing as previously scheduled in June, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the law firm representing Stephens, announced on Friday.
On May 6, the AHS obtained a court order (pdf) allowing Alberta police to arrest any individual for “organizing an in-person gathering, including requesting, inciting or inviting others to attend an ‘Illegal Public Gathering,’” which is defined as one that does not comply with masking, physical distancing, and limited gathering requirements ordered by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
The Justice Centre successfully had the May 6 order amended on May 13, making it applicable only to the individuals listed in the order rather than to all Albertans. This also made the Calgary police’s arrest of Stephens on May 16, based on the injunction, unlawful.
The Justice Centre noted that they had informed the Calgary Police Service. Despite this, the police continued to make arrests after being informed of the amended order, the centre said.
Stephens described the federal response to COVID-19 as a form of “soft totalitarianism,” which seeks to govern “every aspect of people’s lives.”
“They, in essence, see themselves as governors of every aspect of people’s lives, including in your home, who can go in your home or not, or how many can gather together for church or outside or indoors. It’s really quite astounding that they think they have the duty or responsibility to do this,” he said.
Moving forward, Stephens said his church will continue to provide services to the community.