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‘Tensions Are Escalating’: Ontario Congregation Charged For Meeting Outdoors After Police Lock Church

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SANTA FE, NM - JULY 29, 2017: The morning sun rises behind a stone cross atop The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Built between 1869 and 1886, the Roman Catholic Church is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
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A Christian congregation in Ontario, Canada, has been charged with violating lockdown rules by holding several outdoor services with more than 10 people after police locked them out of their church building.

The Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario, many of the members of which are from the Mennonite tradition, held two services on May 16 and May 23, in violation of the Reopening Ontario Act, which limits even outdoor gatherings to 10 people.

They were forced to meet outdoors after police locked the doors of their church upon the order of Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas, who alleged the church had turned the small town of Aylmer into “a cauldron of hostility.” No cases of COVID-19 have been traced to the house of worship.

According to video of the incident, police officers interrupted the Church of God’s worship service earlier this month while congregants sang hymns. As the armed officers entered the sanctuary to order them to vacate, Pastor Henry Hildebrandt read from the third chapter of the Book of Daniel, which recounts how God saved three of Daniel’s friends who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship a golden image set up by the king of Babylon.

“It is important that people retain the right to choose for themselves whether a situation presents a danger to their health,” Hildebrandt told The Christian Post. “We offer drive-in, online, in-person services to accommodate all those seeking for spiritual fellowship.”

Hildebrandt said he and his church “acknowledge Christ as our king and do not recognize the authority of the state as it pertains to the services and functions of the church as prescribed by the Word of God.”

“When the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, we will obey God rather than men,” Hildebrandt continued. “The supremacy of God is written into our Constitution, and we acknowledge that his sovereignty supersedes that of earthly government.”

Related: ‘May God Help Us’: Ontario Christians Pray For Police As They Kick Them Out Of Church, Lock Doors

During a recent interview with The London Free Press, Aylmer Police Chief Zvonko Horvat said that “tensions are escalating” regarding the backlash his police force has received from their actions against the Church of God. “Obviously, we don’t want to see anybody get hurt and, certainly, it is a concern for me and my officers.”

Horvat also said he has no sympathy for those at the Church of God who say the strict provincial lockdowns are an attack on their religious liberty.

“I absolutely do not [have sympathy],” said Hovart. “There are certain things that governments take a position on for the betterment of the community and the safety of the community and, in actual fact, they are not prohibited from having service, so it’s not a total shutdown of religious services. These are restrictions in terms of the number of people (for in-person service) based on expert opinion during this pandemic. They are allowed to do a drive-in service where they can worship and pray … so I’m not sympathetic at all toward their cause. It’s more defiance than anything else.”

Related: Can Religious Liberty Survive COVID-19?

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