Canada in 2018 is still a relatively safe space for practicing Christians. Especially when compared to Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, where churches are burned, bombed or banned. Or China, which persecutes believers who attend authentic Christian churches free from government control.
Canada’s velvet totalitarianism is such that the British Columbia government did not resort to dungeon, fire, or sword to shut down a religious education program for children. Instead, B.C. uses daycare regulations. B.C. insists that providing religious instruction to children is illegal “child care” if one lacks a government licence to “provide care.”
First Baptist Church in Armstrong, B.C., started running a “Kid’s Club Ministry” for children from Kindergarten to Grade 5, on Wednesday afternoons for 90 minutes. Kid’s Club Ministry was free and open to all children, provided their parents signed a permission form. The church explained to government bureaucrat Shauna Stewart that the sole purpose of Kid’s Club was teaching children about Jesus, love. and the Good News. Previously, the church had run a similar program in the evening.
For Stewart, religious instruction is unauthorized “child care” because First Baptist dared to provide children with snacks, and included activities and games as part of the religious instruction. The church explained why snacks, games, and activities are necessary: “Gone are the days of the old-school model of ‘Sunday School’ where kids just sit around a table and listen to a Bible story. This has been replaced with teaching the Bible stories through activities, games, and stories,” part of creating “a modern and fun environment where we as a church could teach children about Jesus, while doing everyday fun activities and participation.”
Younger children can’t always sit through 90 minutes of religious instruction. According to one study, the average adult has a shorter attention span (eight seconds) than a goldfish (nine seconds). Hence the Armstrong church wisely provided children (ages 5-10) with snack time, as well as options for baking, woodworking, gym-time, crafts, games, and puzzles. After a 20-minute opening session of prayer and Bible lessons, the kids enjoyed 40 minutes for snacks and activities before closing with another 20-minute session of Bible lessons, prayer, and a puppet. Quite sensibly, the church sought “to keep the children engaged, interested, and wanting to come back the following week.”
British Columbia law says “a course of activity or study for children” that has the promotion of religious instruction “as its only purpose” does not need a daycare license. This means that churches running kids’ programs can rely on volunteers and regular employees, without needing to hire only those with degrees in Early Childhood Education. In similar fashion, a soccer coach can bring sliced oranges to a game or practice without a permit.
Nevertheless, Stewart continued to assert that First Baptist was acting as a “community care facility.” She ordered that it immediately cease operating Kid’s Club Ministry. The church complied and has now closed its doors to young children, but has appealed Stewart’s decision.
Without providing reasons or explanation, Stewart “determined” that a church program is a daycare if it includes “snack time, arts and crafts, homework time, free play activities, games, etc.” Stewart and her taxpayer-funded colleagues simply won’t tolerate First Baptist providing kids with snacks, activities, arts, and crafts as part of a religious Kids’ Club.
Apart from the unanswered question of whether obtaining a government licence results in better care for anyone, it’s obvious why B.C. law does not require churches to obtain daycare licenses to run children programs. Like chess clubs, musical programs, soccer leagues, Girl Guides, and Cadets Canada, church programs are part of the social fabric that sustains a free society. For its health and strength, the free society depends on Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” of private, voluntary associations. Exempting social and religious programs is a necessary protection for civil society. For a bureaucrat to insist that these programs cannot exist without government licence is to smother civil society with a cold, wet, and expensive blanket of bureaucracy, employing busy-bodies who appear to be high on their own power.
Canada’s velvet totalitarianism will continue to grow unless resisted decisively. This deliberate undermining of civil society ultimately hurts everyone, believers and non-believers alike.
John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which acts for Armstrong’s First Baptist Church in seeking to overturn the Interior Health decision against it.