Street minister sees City Hall as public space
It looks like an average BBQ in front of the steps of Old City Hall.
People who look down on their luck stand in line, waiting for the food.
The collective noise of the street drowns out most individual sounds, except for one voice.
“I used to drink like a fish, but have changed my ways.”
A man on a box stands in front of Old City Hall. This is Artur Pawlowski, the street preacher.
With flags and a large cross behind him, Pawlowski preaches the word of God to anyone walking by on the street.
Although his volunteers agree with his message, one or two people jeer and loudly protest what Pawlowski has to say.
“God be with you,” is his reply.
Pawlowski believes it is his right to pray in public, and he says that his new mission is to hold prayer groups in the city hall atrium.
“It’s our democratic right to express our beliefs. It’s freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion,” Pawlowski says.
Every Tuesday at noon, they gather in the atrium to sing songs and pray.
Pawlowski says that he “wants to pray for the wisdom of city hall politicians,” and the best place to do that is in the atrium at city hall.
As may be expected, this public preaching does not go unnoticed.
Each week, Pawlowski has been issued trespassing bans from corporate security and tickets issued by the police.
City hall is not considered a public space.
“City Hall is considered to be an office building,” says Paul Tolley, solicitor with the city.
“People need to apply for permits and receive permission to hold events inside the atrium of city hall,” he says.
Pawlowski and his group could ask to pray outside of business hours, so that he does not disturb people working in offices.
But for Pawlowski, praying outside business hours is not an option. He says he wants a place to pray during public hours, saying that “people should be able to pray for the politicians and their decisions,” even if that means having a secluded room where people could pray.
RELIGION IN PUBLIC
Pawlowski says it is his right as a citizen to pray in a public space, however, the idea of “public space,” and what can and cannot take place within it, is not so cut and dry.
Justin Jalea, an instructor of Religious Studies at Mount Royal University, says that as long as Pawlowski is not breaking any laws, he should be able to “profess his faith in public spaces” — though the public also has the right to respond to his actions.
Photo by Melissa Molloy “There is no harm in being exposed to freedom of religion expression,” Jalea adds.
Mormon men, for example, believe it is their mission to spread the word of religion to the public. At 19 years of age, men go all over the world sharing their ideologies with people.
“We do talk to people in public,” says Larry Spackman, President of Calgary Stake of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We play a much quieter role and try to stay behind the scenes by making sure we obey the local laws as well as the laws of the land,” he adds.
RELIGION IN GOVERNMENT SPACES
But what should government spaces be like? Should there be a prayer room at City Hall?
“We have to think differently about certain places and spaces,” says Jalea. He says that government buildings should be free of religion, in order to be fair, equal and show respect to everyone.
“It’s not that religion is being supressed and not welcome,” he says. “Canada is so diverse, we want to cater to everyone and we have to be neutral.”
Even some religious groups agree.
“We believe the state should not support any particular religion,” Spackman says of Mormonism.
Pawlowksi, however, says he would be happy with a prayer room at City Hall, where he could have a place to sing, worship and pray.
For Jalea, this space for prayer in city hall doesn’t sound quite like what the Canadian Charter means when it comes to freedom of religion.
“Artur has other places where he can express his religion and his fundamental rights, and his rights are not being supressed,” Jalea says.