Police ticket Christians for attending Sunday worship in small Ontario town
AYLMER, Ontario, January 29, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Police in a small Ontario town have been going door to door and fining members of an evangelical community who have dared to go to church on Sundays.
Footage emerged of the police trudging through the snow to deliver a ticket to a member of a Church of God community in Aylmer, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else’s name. The film was published on Twitter by Herbert Hildebrandt, the son of the Aylmer Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt.
Tonight, under cover of darkness @AylmerPolice went from house to house handing out $880 tickets for going to church this past Sunday.#standwithGod @ezralevant @randyhillier @DerekSloanCPC @KarahaliosPC @PoliceOnGuard @TGranicAllen @aylmerpastor @aigkenham @benshapiro pic.twitter.com/z0P4N9r5cX— Herbert Hildebrandt (@herberandt) January 27, 2021
“Tonight, under cover of darkness @AylmerPolice went from house to house handing out $880 tickets for going to church this past Sunday,” Herbert Hildebrandt tweeted.
The church-goers were in violation of Ontario’s “Emergency Orders” measure meant to contain the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus through suspending the rights of Ontarians to, among other activities, attend public worship in groups larger than 10.
According to their Facebook page, the Aylmer Police Service identified 47 people who took part in Christian worship, held both inside and outside the church, and is now in the process of bringing tickets to them all.
“As of 27th of January Aylmer Police have identified 47 persons who were in violation of Emergency Orders during an indoor and outdoor gathering on 24th of January 2021 at a church situated on John St. North Aylmer ON,” the Aylmer Police’s post stated.
“Officers are in the process of serving 29 Part 1 tickets on those individuals identified. In addition, 18 Part 3 summons are being processed for individuals residing outside of Elgin County Jurisdiction and for those persons/organization responsible for Organizing and hosting the event.”
In an earlier message, the police department said they will be seeking advice from a “Public Health Unit” to “develop further mitigating strategies specific to (the Church of God adherents) to reduce the risk of exposure and harm within our community."
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), on Sunday Henry Hildebrandt preached in the Church of God parking lot before inviting his congregation into the church. There they sang “Joy to the World.”
Hildebrandt joked that he had forgotten to tell the crowd, estimated at about 75, that masks were available at the door. Footage of the service, posted to the church’s own social media, shows that the congregation neither wore masks nor kept their distance from one another. Police used the footage to identify people who took part in the service.
Aylmer is a town of under 8,000 people. The CBC reported January 25 that the community has had “358 confirmed cases (sic) of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and currently has 27 active cases.” Meanwhile, Hildebrandt is a leader of the local resistance to lockdown restrictions. In November 2020, he supported a protest march of 2,000 people through the town. On January 6, he was issued a summons for having held a service in his church on Sunday, December 27.
Pastor Hildebrandt told LifeSiteNews that his faith community believes that church worship must continue despite the restrictions and presented several arguments from Scripture to explain why.
Whereas, the first and great commandment is that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5);
And whereas, this first and great commandment is a summary of the first four of the ten commandments (Matthew 22:37-40);
And whereas, the first commandment tells us who to worship, the second commandment tells us how to worship, the third commandment tells us the manner of worship, and the fourth commandment tells us the when of worship (Exodus 20:3-11; cf. Deuteronomy 5:7-15);
And whereas, since the resurrection of Christ, the first day of the week called the Lord’s Day is to be kept holy unto Him (1 Corinthians 16:1; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10);
And whereas, it is impossible to love God without regard to the first four commandments (John 14:15; John 15:14; 1 Jn. 2:3, 5; 5:3);
And whereas, God defines public worship to include the physical gathering of his people (Leviticus 23:3; Psalm 89:7; Hebrews 10:25);
And whereas, we are explicitly forbidden from rendering to Caesar what is God’s (Mark 12:17);
And whereas, we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29);
And whereas, Christ is the only Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18; cf. Ephesians 1:19-23);
And whereas God alone is the Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines, traditions and commandments of men, which are in anything that is contrary to His word; or beside it in matters of faith and worship (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29; 1 Cor 7:23; Matt 23:8; 2 Cor. 1:24; Matt 15:9);
And whereas, only the demonstrably sick are to be quarantined (Leviticus 13:1-9);
And whereas, believers are no longer subject to bondage through fear of death (Hebrews 2:15; cf. 1 John 4:18; Philippians 1:21);
And whereas, the mission of the Church is the glory of God in the salvation of sinners (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 4:4-5; 5:20)
And whereas, the primary means of the spread of Christ’s kingdom is through the preaching of God’s Word (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 10:17);
And whereas, love for God takes precedence over our love for our neighbour (Matthew 22:37);
And whereas obedience to God shapes our love for our neighbour (Romans 13:7-14);
And whereas, love for neighbour concerns itself with the whole man, soul and body (Proverbs 1:7; Ezekiel 18:4; Matthew 10:18; 2 Corinthians 5:10-21);
And whereas, God’s glory is our reason for being (Philippians 1:20),
we believe that churches or believers must continue to gather in person for public worship with or without the permission of the civil authorities.
Hildebrandt also told LifeSiteNews that his community has always taken “extensive precautions” to protect the health of worshippers, even before the pandemic.
“The isolation of the sick is very important along with proper sanitation and cleaning procedures throughout our facility and also our homes," he said.
“We encourage anyone with symptoms of communicable diseases to stay home, especially those that are particularly vulnerable.”
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has been supporting clergy who have been leading public worship despite the Covid-19 inspired restrictions. In a January 7 interview with the CBC, JCCF lawyer Lisa Bildy stated that her organization is “dedicated to the defence of Canadian civil liberties.” She first became involved in the Aylmer Church of God community’s struggle to continue to worship in April, when the church was unfairly threatened with charges for having drive-in services in the parking lot. These presented no danger to public health, Bildy said, and suggested that the government should prove that its current restrictions on public worship are justified.
“We'll be serving a notice of constitutional challenge on the government so that they will come to defend their restrictions," Bildy told the CBC.
“They haven't been forced to do that yet. And really, that's why this case is so important, because we do have civil liberties in this country. It is a free country. And if the government is going to restrict us for 10 months, they should be put to the test of showing us that the evidence justifies that.”
Meanwhile, Aylmer Police say they are committed to protecting the safety of the wider community.
“Community safety and well-being and enforcement of laws is a top priority for Aylmer Police Service during this global pandemic,” they wrote.
“We are asking citizens, businesses and faith-based groups to be part of the solution and not a problem by abiding by the current restrictions to protect our community. Collectively we can enhance the safety of our community, citizens and family members.”