Calgary street preacher ready to sue city for religious persecution

| January 6, 2012 | 17 Comments

Pawlowski claims Mayor Nenshi anti-Christian

Street church minister Artur Pawlowski, centre, listens to City Hall official. Photo: www.streetchurch.ca

 

By Christopher Walsh and Kevin Olenick    

Art Pawlowski, better known as Calgary’s street preacher, will be taking a break from praying for city councillors’ souls to sue both the city and the police service for damages associated with years of harassment and persecution he says he’s suffered.

 

 

Pawlowski and six of his flock were arrested December 20 inside city hall for holding a church service without filing the necessary permits.

But Pawlowski and well-known right-wing mouthpiece Ezra Levant are claiming the arrest is part of an anti-Christian crusade perpetrated by Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“I believe this guy is biased, either because he’s Muslim or he’s a socialist – because clearly he is,” Pawlowski said.

“Either he doesn’t like conservative people – and I am a conservative person and a Christian. There has to be some connection.”

Pawlowski has been arrested eight times since 2005, been served with over 100 court summons and has appeared in court over 70 times. He says the latest arrest, which saw him and others escorted in handcuffs past an LRT station, was the breaking point.

“We’re going to file a lawsuit against the city and the police department for damages,” he said.

“They walked us like Nazis out of concentration camp for everyone to see, handcuffed and escorted by the heavy arm of the police force. There was no need for a display. I think what they wanted was to achieve embarrassment.”

Nenshi’s office would not comment on the accusations of religious intolerance, citing the perceived absurdity of the claims, but did confirm Nenshi did not call the police to have Pawlowski and the group removed. That decision was made by the city’s corporate security and was based on the group not filing the necessary paperwork to appear in city hall.

Ashley Wedderburn, a corporate administration spokesperson with the city, says the city was following proper protocol on a group that did not file an application.

“The municipal building is a public building and all visitors are welcome.  As it is primarily an office building, we ask those who visit to conduct themselves appropriately and not disrupt normal business activities,” she said in an email. “The City requires those who wish to hold a meeting or gathering to apply through the appropriate process to receive permission to hold an event.”

But Pawlowski says the application itself is biased and prohibits religious activities during regular business hours at city hall, requires a $2 million liability and can only be done once a year. He says he was negotiating with city representatives in hopes of working out a resolution that would permit him to hold services in the atrium from time to time or in another room.

Pawlowski says he will not file a form that prohibits religious activities during business hours.

“I’m not going to hide that we are praying. I’m not going to say I’m mumbling something that’s not religious, because it is,” he said.

And he will be back, he adds.

“I decided, no, we have to go to the heart of the city, to the very core of the city where the politics is happening and we have to start being not only visible, but also be in the heart where we can pray and preach and influence those people,” he said. “Obviously, they need to be influenced. They are like little children running around with the clubs hitting everyone that doesn’t like them or says something negative.”

Although the Street Church has had difficulties with city hall, other Christian-based organizations in the city have found city hall to be supportive.

Maria Nndem, who has worked for Street Light, an outreach group that focuses on homeless youth, says they have a long standing supportive history with the city.

“Our relationship with the City of Calgary is a good one,” Nndem said. “They have always been supportive of us. Even back to the days of Mayor Al Duerr. When we were struggling to find a safe and parking-secured location for our ministry, the city alderman came to our rescue and fully enabled us to continue our outreach.”

Allyssa Burnhham, a spokesperson with the Mustard Seed echoed the sentiments.

“Although there has been some struggles , we have come to place of respect and real partnership with the City,” Burnham said.

Pawlowski says those groups have not had issues because they are conducting their business out of the public eye. Feeding hundreds of homeless people on the streets attracts a lot of attention that the city doesn’t like, he says.

“The homeless are visible and not looking very good,” said Pawlowski. “They don’t like that because it shows their inability to deal with the issue or the problem.

“The second thing is we are very vocal about our faith. We don’t hide it. We’re very vocal and because of the name Jesus Christ constantly being listed. That makes them very nervous.”

Pawlowski would not give a timeframe for the lawsuit, but did say he’s still willing to discuss the issue with the mayor or city representatives.

“This is not a game for me. This is life and death. We’re fighting for our own survival in this city.”

 

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  1. Mae says:

    Artur and his street church are definitely out of line with mainstream Christianity. While I applaud anyone who fights for the rights of those who wish to speak openly and freely of their beliefs, without impediment imposed by the state, I hope that Artur someday realizes that his actions are not, in my respectful opinion, what Jesus would do.

    His newsletters decry those who give foreign aid to those who do not know Jesus, speak in shaming words about the lifestyle lived by prostitutes, and throw verbal stones at “adulterers” and other people who do not live as he thinks they should live.

    I urge Artur to read the words of Jesus, of his love and his compassion, and know that it did not come with a self-serving political agenda.

  2. Pawlowski will be back, we can be sure – not because he needs to spread the Gospel, but because he has a seemingly pathological need for attention and self-aggrandizement.

    Pawlowski has a history of conflict with city officials and police. Maybe that’s because he’s been singled out for persecution, out of all the tens of thousands of followers of Christianity, and Islam, and Judaism (among others) in this city. Or maybe it’s just because his “ministry” looks a lot like harassment to many.

    I can appreciate that his group does do some good deeds, in terms of caring for the needy. So does the Mustard Seed, to name a prominent Christian organization serving large numbers of the needy of our city, and yet I have volunteered there in the past, and seen that while there is little doubt it is a Christian organization, it does it’s good deeds quietly and respectfully – not as an opportunity to hammer on a hapless audience to repent or else!

    Pawlowski says The Mustard Seed is conducting their business out of the public eye, and so avoids trouble with the City (that’s funny, since I think most Calgarians are aware of the work of The Mustard Seed – and hold it in generally high regard); perhaps the real issue is simply Pawlowski’s combative and confrontational style, and his need to be in the public eye (or is that to spit in the public eye?). It is this that has brought him repeated run-ins with police, city officials, and the courts. I’m pretty sure it’s not the answer to those WWJD (what would Jesus do) bumper stickers. More the story of a jerk trying to make the streets and public spaces of Calgary his bully pulpit, to misuse the phrase.

    Unfortunately, perhaps Pawlowski holds the same sort of position with respect to other Christian organizations as radical Islamicists to Islam in general – one that under the guise of faith is rooted in conflict. And probably no more likely to be constrained by his fellow travelers in the faith, and by simple norms of courtesy and respect, and rules to enforce those norms in public spaces when courtesy and respect fail, than are other radicals who dress up their anti-social tendencies with the trappings of faith or ideology.

  3. TNGMug says:

    I think this guy’s biggest mistake is insulting most citizen’s intelligence by not expecting us to seem though him like glass. He cries religious persecution every time he’s not allowed to make up his own rules. If anything it looks to me like the city has been handling him with kid gloves, based on the observation that he keeps managing to come back to harass people.

    And FYI: bribing homeless people with food to give you the time of day and a pulpit isn’t charity.

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