A Canadian pastor who was jailed for holding in-person worship services in violation of COVID-19 restrictions will stay in jail until his May trial.
According to ChurchLeaders, Pastor James Coates, of GraceLife Church in Canada, will stay in jail until the May 3 trial, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn ruled.
Coates turned himself into police after his church held an in-person worship service on Feb. 14. The church had been ordered to close in January for previously violating COVID-19 health restrictions. The church did not cap attendance at 15 percent occupancy and did not enforce social distancing or masks. Coates was also ordered to pay a $1,200 fine.
Coates turned himself in on Feb. 16.
“The law that Mr. Coates clearly intends not to be bound by remains valid and enforceable against him,” the judge said. “Mr. Coates’ strongly held religious beliefs and convictions do not overcome those valid and enforceable laws.”
Coates’ lawyer, however, said the pastor felt he had to choose between God and the government.
“Obedience is to his Lord, is to his God,” said James Kitchen of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. “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.”
Previously, Coates had said he would not stop holding in-person services if he was granted bail.
Kitchen said the church believes the restrictions are “an evil that has to stop.”
“(Pastor Coates) is prepared to incur the consequences, up to and including imprisonment, to continue to do what he believes is the right thing to do for his people,” Kitchen said.
“We are putting the cart before the horse, doing things backwards,” he added. “This is a matter of deep, deep personal conscience and personal beliefs. He is compelled to obey the God he loves … as are his congregants.”
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Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.