Canadian Pastor James Coates called into GraceLife Church’s indoor Sunday worship service from inside the Edmonton Remand Centre correctional facility.
Associate Pastor Jacob Spenst, who ran the service Sunday in Coates’ absence, said the jailed pastor was joining them via phone but Coates didn’t speak.
This past Sunday marked the third straight worship service Pastor Coates has missed due to being locked up for disregarding pandemic-related health orders, and he will remain in the correction facility until his May trial. Sunday’s indoor service marked the sixth time GraceLife Church violated their closure order for not adhering to capacity restrictions and ignoring social distancing mandates.
Authorities were on site during Sunday’s worship service that had congregants singing without masks but Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Cpl. Curtis Peters said he was unaware of any needed enforcement that resulted from Sunday’s service.
A Canadian pastor has spent the last two weeks in jail for ignoring pandemic-related health orders. Parkland County’s GraceLife Church’s Pastor James Coates turned himself over to the authorities after holding an in-person worship service on February 14, 2021, despite a closure order for violating COVID-19 health orders.
His lawyer said Pastor Coates’ “obedience is to his Lord, is to his God. And normally, obeying Jesus and obeying the government go right in hand…but the government’s forcing him into a position where he has to choose between disobeying God and obeying government, or obeying God and disobeying government.”
Justice Peter Michalyshyn dismissed Pastor Coates’ appeal and said that the pastor remained unrepentant and plans to continue violating public health orders. “The law that Mr. Coates clearly intends not to be bound by remains valid and enforceable against him.” The justice continued to say, ” Mr. Coates’ strongly held religious beliefs and convictions do not overcome those valid and enforceable laws.”
Justice Michalyshyn said Pastor Coates “drives home even more clearly and personally the depth of his conviction not be bound by the law.” The justice explained that Coates’ clear intent is to not adhere to public health orders because Coates said he could not abide by the conditions of his release if he was granted bail.
Coates’ lawyer John Carplay said, “Pastor Coates is a peaceful Christian minister. He should never have been required to violate his conscience and effectively stop pastoring his church as a condition to be released. 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.”
Although GraceLife Church’s pastor is in jail, the church has continued holding weekend services despite Alberta Health Services’ close watch for violations. It was reported by authorities that the indoor worship services are beyond ordered capacity, yet it is unknown if any further fines have been issued.
People gathered outside of the courthouse on Thursday with banners reading #freejamescoates.
Similar to California’s Grace Community Church’s Pastor John MacArthur, Pastor Coates addressed the area’s COVID-19 restrictions during sermons telling his congregants that “governments exist as instruments of God and there should be unfettered freedom of worship.”