Tax man revokes street preacher’s charitable status
Bishop Henry asks who will gov’t go after next?
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
CALGARY – Revenue Canada has revoked the charitable status of Glory Christian Fellowship, citing the political activities of its lay pastor Artur Pawlowski.
Yet Pawlowski’s so-called political activities amount to nothing more than preaching the Gospel, albeit in a highly public manner.
In December, the church received a letter from Dian Prodenov of the Canada Revenue Agency informing the fellowship its status was revoked because "members of the board of directors espouse strong negative views about sensitive and controversial issues, which may also be viewed as political, such as abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc."
Revenue Canada had taken information off StreetChurch.ca, a website for the independent Street Church Ministries that the 37-year-old Pawlowski runs to feed the poor and evangelize the homeless in downtown Calgary.
"God bless him for what he’s doing," said Calgary Bishop Fred Henry. "Artur is out there on his own; he’s doing stuff that nobody else will do."
Henry called the letter an attempt "to muzzle somebody," and said Pawlowski was possibly being singled out because he represents a small organization. "He looks like he’s one of the vulnerable ones."
"If they are successful in shutting him down, who’s next?" Henry wondered if this move will silence and intimidate others from speaking out "on societal issues that Christians cannot accept."
Calgary street preacher Artur Pawlowski has incurred the wrath of Canada Revenue Agency for preaching against abortion, homosexuality and divorce.
"I hope Artur gets some support on this," he said. "Clearly (Revenue Canada) seems to be way out of line."
The bishop said Pawlowski’s case is bringing back "some flashbacks" of a threatening phone call he received in 2005 from a Revenue Canada official who threatened to revoke his charitable status for his robust defence of traditional marriage during the height of the same-sex marriage debate.
Henry also faced two human rights complaints that were subsequently dropped.
Henry noted Pawlowski has also faced pressure from the City of Calgary. In 2007, the city tried to shut down his downtown ministry that serves 150,000 people a year.
TOO MANY BARBECUES
Calgarians line up for free food distributed by Street Church Ministries run by
City officials complained about the crowds he attracted, the barbecues he set up on the sidewalks, the stacks of food getting in the way of pedestrians and the amplified Bible-based preaching. They took him to court.
But in December, Judge A.A. Fradsham declared six of the bylaws unconstitutional and threw the case out. He said the city’s actions "fall precariously close to being excessive and, to any reasonable observer, an abuse of power."
Henry said he found it odd that so soon after Pawlowski’s court victory he would hear from Revenue Canada.
The bishop also noted the pastor’s outspoken efforts to get the city to treat Christians equally.
Because Calgary’s mayor had proclaimed a Gay Pride month, Pawlowski wanted him to declare December Jesus’ month and to raise a flag for Jesus on Dec. 25 in honour of his birth.
The mayor refused so Pawlowski filed a human rights complaint.
Pawlowski grew up in Communist Poland. He said that when his younger brother got baptized, his father did not dare go inside the church because he feared someone might take his picture or report him to authorities and he would lose his government job. Pawlowski witnessed authorities using machine guns to quell protests in the streets.
The street evangelist said he never thought he would face problems in his adopted country he thought he had left behind when his family fled Poland in 1990.
"It’s a constant battle with the government right now," the married father of three children said. "Crazy political correctness" is stripping Christians of their rights "in the name of equality."
Henry said he does not know Pawlowski personally but he has been following his battle in the newspapers. "I think his past experience has probably been a major determining factor in giving this man some backbone," the bishop said.
"(Pawlowski) preaches outside where others hear about it and complain about it," said Calgary constitutional lawyer Gerry Chipeur, who specializes in religious freedom cases.
He ministers to the homeless, the drug addicted, the prostitutes, and "puts himself right in the middle," Chipeur said, noting that the pastor has been physically attacked by some of the dope dealers and pimps who don’t like his presence.
"This is not someone out lobbying for political change," he said. "He’s lobbying to change peoples’ hearts, not lobbying to change a particular law."
Chipeur said Pawlowski has even served steaks on the street on special occasions. "As he impacts these peoples’ lives, he changes their way of living and their mind and makes practising Christians out of them."
Pawlowski reminds Chipeur of a "Jesus freak," he said and agreed some might find him eccentric. "It is unreasonable for any normal person to stand on the street in 40 below weather and preach the Gospel."
The pastor’s Bible-based preaching is nothing that has not been taught in Christian churches for 2,000 years, he said.
Chipeur said he is "shocked and appalled" by Revenue Canada’s violation of Pawlowski’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
"You cannot use your power under the Tax Act to achieve a religious objective," Chipeur said. "You cannot use your power to shut down religious speech."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently shuffled his cabinet, putting Fredericton MP Keith Ashfield in charge of the Revenue portfolio. Canadian Catholic News has requested a response from the new minister.