A new classical college in Wyoming has hired as its president the pastor “exiled” from Canada after he prayed and sang the national anthem at a lockdown protest in Ottawa two years ago. On Jan. 23, the decorated veteran Harold Ristau’s legal team also prevailed in a court case against the Canadian government that argued treating peaceful dissent as terrorism violated Canadians’ civil and constitutional rights. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government vowed to appeal.
“We’re really, really, excited about coming to the States. Thank you, America,” Ristau told The Federalist Tuesday on a Zoom call from Kenya, where he has been teaching pastors and missionaries as academic dean at the Lutheran School of Theology.
After Canada’s government threatened Ristau’s family under terrorism provisions for peacefully attending a lockdown protest, they moved to Kenya in August 2022. This April after classes at the Kenyan seminary conclude, Ristau’s family will move again, to Casper, Wyoming, where he will begin helping build a new college from the ground up. Between now and then, Ristau will also train pastors in South Sudan, where white travelers are told not to take airplanes for their safety and to pack only what they’re willing to lose to robbery.
“He is indisputably brave,” said Pastor Christian Preus, chairman of Luther Classical College‘s board of regents, which hired Ristau. “He’s been on the frontlines ministering to soldiers and knows what it means to lead in difficult situations. His courage is also displayed in what he did in Canada. And that he’s willing to take a stand even if it costs him.”
Ristau holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and two master’s degrees. As a chaplain, he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Canadian military’s Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation in 2014. Ristau has preached and taught pastoral students across the globe, from Afghanistan and Kenya to Nicaragua and Thailand. Two of his four books pastorally treat the subject of casting out demons, a spiritual need formerly much more visible outside the West.
Preus noted Ristau’s many qualifications include experience in college administration such as registrar work and pursuing accreditation for two other institutions. Besides his massive professional capacities, Preus said, Ristau “is a man of humility. Someone who has done as much as he has done, he just sees it as his duty. This is what a good man does. Yet most men are not capable of doing everything that he’s done.”
Amid Ristau’s completion of dangerous missions across the globe, Preus noted, “He’s a family man at the same time and has raised this beautiful conservative family.” That’s the kind of leader Luther Classical wants affecting its youthful charges.
Luther Classical College opens in the fall of 2025. Among many other things, it aims to teach students “that the Bible is the wisdom of God far surpassing all the wisdom of men” and “that piety is better than wealth and virtue is better than fame.” Tuition will be $8,500 per year. The college refuses to take federal funds “to secure the independence and guard the doctrinal integrity of the institution.”
The college is part of a rapidly expanding renaissance cultivating new institutions of K-12 and higher education as parents disillusioned by Marxist indoctrination seek to revitalize traditional ways of raising their children. Luther Classical’s board has corresponded with and modeled itself after several established classical colleges, Preus said, including Hillsdale College, New Saint Andrews College, and Wyoming Catholic College.
Due to its rising popularity, classical education takes several forms. All incorporate classic literature, history through original source documents, systematic instruction in math and grammar, natural philosophy-based scientific inquiry, and at least some study of Latin and sometimes Greek.
Learning an ancient Western language offers an unparalleled opportunity to understand completely different ways of thinking while still inside Americans’ cultural tradition, so it is one of the most effective means of truly broadening minds beyond today’s prejudices. Latin competency is a requirement for admission to Luther Classical, which will also teach Greek and Hebrew to pre-seminary students.
On Feb. 12, 2022, Ristau and his wife attended the Freedom Convoy trucker protest at Canada’s national capitol. There, he led prayers and singing at a war memorial on Parliament Hill. In videos, Ristau’s voice can be heard saying the Lord’s Prayer, giving a biblical blessing, and starting the national anthem, “O, Canada.”
For publicly opposing lockdowns, Ristau and his family received death threats and vandalism at their home and his work, say court documents. The Ristaus were ostracized socially, including at school and by many in their church.
A military contact told Ristau he was on the list of Canadians to debank, Ristau said, so he and his wife withdrew their savings to protect it from getting seized by the Canadian government under terrorism laws Trudeau invoked against the protesters. Ristau thinks their savings ultimately weren’t seized because he went on Fox News about the protests, making him too high-profile to target.
More than 200 Canadians did have their finances frozen. Several convoy participants are still in jail awaiting trial two years later. In his singular Jan. 23 decision checking lockdown excesses, Justice Richard Mosley wrote there “was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act.”
He excoriated the Canadian government for seizing citizens’ bank accounts under terrorism provisions, noting that sometimes the bank freezes affected citizens who didn’t protest but merely were family members of protesters: “someone who had nothing to do with the protests could find themselves without the means to access necessaries for household and other family purposes while the accounts were suspended… there was no standard applied to determine whether someone should be the target of the measures or process to allow them to question that determination. As described by Superintendent Beaudoin in cross-examination, it was all informal and ad hoc.” Like Americans, Canadians are not supposed to be deprived of their property except via due process of law.
Ristau said his biggest priorities once he arrives in Wyoming will include meeting people, from faculty to donors to sister school leaders to families at their new church, hiring more faculty, and working to secure housing not only for students but for his family. While they look for a house and secure some secondhand furniture until they can bring their possessions from Canada, the Ristau family will stay with the family of a fellow faculty member.
The church community they’re walking into has welcomed them warmly in other ways, he said. The college volunteered to help figure out how to import his car from Canada to the United States. Women from their next hometown have reached out to Elise via Zoom — “They were so nice to her” — and for the first time in their lives his children will not be the only Christian or Lutheran children in their school.
“My wife Elise is a real trooper and a camper,” Ristau said. “We don’t mind sitting on the floor of an apartment for weeks sharing utensils. We’re excited, hoping this is God’s last place for us. Unless I mess it up, I think it will be.”