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Canada: Praising Jesus against the Law? Toronto Halts Annual Christian Music Festival Calling It "Proselytizing"

Pete Baklinski : Nov 3, 2015

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(Toronto)—The City of Toronto is refusing to grant a Christian group a permit to use a prominent downtown square for its annual musical festival next year, because the city has decided that singing the name of Jesus in the public venue contravenes city policy against "proselytizing." (Screengrab via Voices of the Nations)

Voices of the Nations (VON) has been using city property since 2006 for an annual "multi denominational" event in which it celebrates Christianity through live music and dance. It has been using the Yonge-Dundas Square without issue for the past five years. This year's August 1 event attracted 19 different performance acts, including children's choirs and popular Christian bands, where well-known 'praise-and-worship' songs such as "Days Of Elijah" are performed.

When VON's Events Coordinator Leye Oyelani contacted the Square's Manager of Events Natalie Belman last week by phone to apply for next year's permit, he was told that a permit would not be issued and to look for a venue elsewhere.

"I've already advised Peter [Paresh, Director of VON] that we're not going to be permitting you guys this year for next year because of the proselytizing on the square, and that's a big issue for us," said Belman in a transcript of the October 23 conversation obtained by LifeSiteNews.

A volunteer Board of Management appointed by Toronto City Council operates the Square. Taxpayers contribute about $400,000 of the Square's annual $2.3 million budget to help pay staff salaries and other costs.

When Oyelani asked the city official exactly who proselytized at the event, Belman responded that the "performers did."

"If you're praising Jesus, 'praise the Lord,' and 'there's no God like Jehovah,' that type of thing, that's proselytizing," she said.

Oyelani then said that he didn't think singing about God "would be a problem" given that it was a Christian event.

"That is a big problem," Belman replied. "That [kind of thing], from the stage, is not acceptable."

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines proselytism as "inducing someone to convert to one's faith." Event organizers confirmed to LifeSiteNews that at no point during the performances did the artists induce passersby to convert to Christianity.

Belman went on to relate to Oyelani in the phone conversation that proselytizing goes against the city's Performance & Display Policy.

While the policy states that "Performances / Displays must not advocate a specific political or religious point of view for the purpose of proselytizing" it does not prohibit singing the praises of God or mentioning the name of God.

Belman, who said she was present at the August festival, told Oyelani that the performers' songs go against...

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