James I “transmitted the Declaration to his bishops with an order that it be read from pulpits, but resistance was immediately forthcoming. Some clergy, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, determined to refuse compliance, while a few bold spirits preached against the royal proclamation.” The king withdrew the order, but the declaration’s impact upon England was felt for decades, if not longer, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Readers may already know that last week a Canadian pastor, Artur Pawlowski, was arrested again for holding worship services in Calgary, in the Province of Alberta. Previously, Pastor Pawlowski had been charged with civil contempt and jailed for holding church services in violation of a court order forbidding the organizing or attending an “illegal public gathering.” Following the most recent incident, Pawlowski was sanctioned by a judge to 18 months of probation. As Fox News reported, in addition to the hefty court costs and fines, one of the conditions of Pawlowski’s probation requires him “to parrot ‘the majority of medical experts in Alberta’ regarding social distancing, mask wearing and vaccines, even when he speaks in church.”
The purpose of this short piece is not to take sides in the legal matters at hand nor delve into the technicalities of Pastor Pawlowski’s dealings with the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta; the October 13, 2021, citation of which is available online. Neither is it to argue the merits or demerits of various COVID-19 developments or responses to it, in Alberta, Canada, nor anywhere else. Rather, the focus here is on the citation’s “requirement that whenever [Pastor Pawlowski or his brother] are opposing the AHS [Alberta Health Services] Health Orders in any public forum, (including social media forums), they must also place the other side of the argument on the record.” Moreover, the court directed exactly what “the other side of the argument” entailed. Artur Pawlowski “must indicate in his communications” the following:
I am also aware that the views I am expressing to you on this occasion may not be views held by the majority of medical experts in Alberta. While I may disagree with them, I am obliged to inform you that the majority of medical experts favour social distancing, mask wearing, and avoiding large crowds to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Most medical experts also support participation in a vaccination program unless for a valid religious or medical reason you cannot be vaccinated….
Pawlowski’s attorney and Fox News note that the court’s directive does not exclude the worship services of the church. So, a Canadian pastor has been told the very words he must speak to his congregation in order to comply with the law. Sobering, but not without precedent.
Nearly four centuries ago, in the third week of October, 1633, King Charles I reissued a declaration that his father, James I, had first announced in 1618, known as The Book of Sports or Declaration of Sports. The declaration encouraged various forms of “lawful recreation” during the afternoon following divine service. Activities included dancing, archery, leaping, vaulting, “. . . or any other such harmless recreation.” While James appeared mainly concerned with encouraging his male subjects to engage in “such exercises as may make their bodies more able for war, whenever we or our successors shall have occasion to use them,” the decree became entangled in the religious controversy in England regarding the proper observance of the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, which itself was integral to the social-economic disequilibrium involved in the transition from premodern England to a modern nation-state.
As historian Winton Solberg wrote four decades ago, James I “transmitted the Declaration to his bishops with an order that it be read from pulpits, but resistance was immediately forthcoming. Some clergy, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, determined to refuse compliance, while a few bold spirits preached against the royal proclamation.” The king withdrew the order, but the declaration’s impact upon England was felt for decades, if not longer, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
James died in 1625, bringing his son, Charles I, to the throne. Under his arbitrary rule which included dissolving Parliament in 1629, Sabbath-related issues between Anglicans and Puritans and their allies – the king and Parliament, respectively – grew even more divisive. On October 18, 1633, Charles reissued his father’s Book of Sports, adding his own preface. Bishops were to ensure that the document was read, and published, in all parish churches. In fairness, however, Solberg wrote that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, “. . . does not seem to have punished refusals to read the Declaration with particular severity.” But some bishops “enforced the requirement vigorously.”
While the Puritans’ Great Migration to New England from 1620 to 1640 – the vast majority arriving during the second decade – is well known, it is noteworthy that the Declaration of Sports, including its reissuance, was influential. Solberg wrote, “Emigration to New England greatly quickened as a result of the Book of Sports. Many clergymen, including John Cotton, John Davenport, Thomas Hooker, and Thomas Shepard, fled at this time.” Solberg’s book is highly regarded, and I confess I found it quite useful in my own studies in graduate school in the 1990s. If his conclusion on this point was basically correct, then the fact that such a momentous decision on the part of pastors and parishioners was made to some degree because of the interference of the state upon matters of the church and her worship – to the extent of compelling the speech of pastors – should grab our attention today. It strikes at the all-important issue of who is the rightful head of the church: Jesus Christ, or anyone else. If a pastor in England in the 1630s, or one in Canada in the 2020s, can be compelled to speak certain messages at the state’s command, then religious liberties are at risk. Christians must think, pray, and plan for the issue coming to a church near you.
Forrest Marion is a ruling elder in Eastwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Montgomery, Ala.
 Jon Brown, “Canadian pastor defiant as judge orders him to parrot ‘medical experts’ from pulpit: ‘I will not obey,’” Fox News, Oct. 15, 2021, including quotes. See also Jon Brown, “Jailed Alberta Pastor Alleges Abuse In Prison But Remains Hopeful; Lawyer Condemns ‘Bizarre’ Detention,” The Daily Wire, May 10, 2021; Dewey Roberts, “Former ARP Canadian Pastor, Steve Richardson, Under Attack and Needs Our Help,” The Aquila Report, Jul. 8, 2021.
 “Citation: Alberta Health Services v Pawlowski, 2021 ABQB 813,” Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Oct. 13, 2021, pp. 8-10, including quotes (filed on Oct. 15, 2021), pdf accessed at the Fox News article above.
 Winton U. Solberg, Redeem the Time: The Puritan Sabbath in Early America (Cambridge, Mass., and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1977, pp. 71-72, including quotes.
 Solberg, Redeem the Time, pp. 73-74, including quote.
 Solberg, Redeem the Time, pp. 75-77, including quotes.
 Solberg, Redeem the Time, pp. 77-78, including quote.