Christians around the world are speaking out on behalf of a Canadian pastor imprisoned since Feb. 16 for holding in-person worship services.
Pastor James Coates with GraceLife Church of Edmonton was arrested and incarcerated for violating government COVID-19 restrictions that required mask-wearing, social distancing, and keeping church congregations at below 15 percent capacity limited according to the Edmonton Journal.
The Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn has ruled that Coates shall remain at the correctional facility for not signing a release form admitting to guilt and agreeing to follow what many see as an intrusion on religious liberty.
Coates responded by saying the health orders “directly contravene the authority of the local church, and the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Attorney James Kitchen said the conduct taken by the pastor and his church “is not about just wantonly rebelling. It is about doing what is intelligent to them and what maintains their freedoms, but most importantly what is ultimately honoring to their God that they believe in.”
“And they are not going to cease worshipping God as they believe they have been commanded to do, simply because the government says so,” he added.
The church outlined the safety precautions it followed in a statement on the church’s website. It said that it abided by COVID-19 restrictions when information about the virus was first released. GraceLife did transition to online sermons but returned to in-person worship last summer after restrictions were lifted.
“When COVID-19 first appeared, we shifted to live stream and abided by most of the new government guidelines for our gatherings,” the website reads. “But when the first declared public health emergency ended, we opened our doors and returned to nearly normal gatherings on Sunday, June 21st, 2020.”
Pastor James Coates continues to sit in a Canadian jail. This article provides helpful insight into his situation – insight Christians around the globe can use to better pray for our brother, his family and flock. #FreeJamesCoates https://t.co/bybDBQDiDP via @FoundersMin
— Christian Emergency Alliance (@ChristianEmerg1) March 3, 2021
“We did so recognizing COVID-19 was much less severe than the government had initially projected. This sentiment was reflected in the assessment of the Premier of Alberta, who deliberately referred to COVID-19 as ‘influenza’ multiple times in a speech announcing the end of the first declared public health emergency.”
GraceLife continues to offer in-person services to congregants, even while Pastor Coates remains in custody.
The church website asserts, “Churches should open, businesses should open, families and friends should come together around meals, and people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back. In fact, some say we are on the cusp of reaching the point of no return. Protect the vulnerable, exercise reasonable precautions, but begin to live your lives again.”
In a sermon prior to his arrest, Pastor Coates said his actions are in direct obedience to the commands set forth by our Lord and Savior.
“I’m doing what I’m doing in obedience to Christ. I am quite content to let the Lord Jesus Christ himself decide whether or not this is persecution,” Coates said. “He promises that those who are persecuted for his namesake will be blessed. He’s the one that blesses and I’m content to leave that in His court.”
“Charter freedoms do not disappear because the government declares regular church services to be outlawed while allowing hundreds of people to fill their local Walmarts,” notes lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre which works on behalf of Canadians for religious freedom.
A trial is scheduled for Pastor Coates from May 3-5 in the Alberta Provincial Court.