The city of Toronto has refused to renew a permit allowing Voices of the Nations (VON) to use its downtown Yonge-Dundas Square for an annual concert because a city official thinks playing Christian music is the same as proselytization.
"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 the Square's events manager Natalie Belman to VON Events Coordinator Leye Oyelani on Oct. 23, according to LifeSiteNews.
Belman said the performers proselytized at VON's Aug. 1 event, which she attended. "If you're praising Jesus, 'praise the Lord,' and 'there's no God like Jehovah,' that type of thing, that's proselytizing," she told Oyelani.
Oyelani pointed out singing about God shouldn't be a problem at a Christian concert.
"That is a big problem," Belman replied. "That [kind of thing], from the stage, is not acceptable."
The line Belman references about Jehovah comes from the song "Days of Elijah," written by Robin Mark.
CITY CHALLENGES GOD
Peter Paresh was shocked by the city's decision, since VON had used the square annually without issue since 2010.
"The city official is not going up against me or my organization, but against the most high God," Paresh said. "She's basically saying, 'Sorry, but you can't have the name of Jesus being spoken from the stage on Dundas Square.' When they go up against the most high God, in my opinion, I have to fight for the name of Jesus."
"This is nothing more than blatant discrimination against Christians. Can you imagine the City Official saying something like this to a Muslim or Jewish group and getting away with it?"
- VON Petition
As a way to fight the decision, the organization, which attracted 19 world-renowned performers in August, began a petition asking the mayor and the city to issue the permit.
"Even if part of me is weary about what's going to happen," Paresh said, "I know that God is going to take care of everything. I just have to step out and make sure I vindicate his name."
Prior Toronto administration touted the music festival's contribution to the "vibrancy and diversity" of the city, Paresh said.
Belman maintains the music at the concert violates the city's Performance and Display policy, which, while it does prohibit proselytization, does not define proselytizing as speaking the name of Jesus or praising God.
"That seems to be a large part of your programming," Belman told Oyelani. "It seems to be an integral part of what your mandate is, and given that, I think that you guys should be looking for a different venue, because that is not in-line with our policies," the official said.
BULLYING & BLATANT DISCRIMINATION
David Lynn, Toronto street preacher and founder of Christian Positive Space, shares VON's outrage over the permit. He calls the city's position "bullying."
"How's a Christian at a Christian event not to say the name of Jesus in their songs?" he asked in an interview with LifeSiteNews. He has been in conflict with the city for preaching in the Square and says the public space is regularly used by people of all religions.
"This City of Toronto verdict is telling the Christian community that we are not allowed to be ourselves on Toronto property. This is awful," Lynn said.
The VON petition, which has almost 28,000 signatures, asks, "This is nothing more than blatant discrimination against Christians. Can you imagine the City Official saying something like this to a Muslim or Jewish group and getting away with it?"
Among the performers at the music festival are adult and children's choirs, vocalists, bands, dance groups, and instrumentalists.
The province of Ontario's human rights code prohibits discrimination based on creed, which may mean the city stands in violation of the law. The Square is run by a volunteer Board of Management appointed by the Toronto City Council, LifeSiteNews reports.
"Whatever happens," Paresh said, "I will fight for the name of Jesus."
This article was originally published in Christian Examiner.