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James Coates, lead pastor of GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada, has been jailed for holding in-person worship services amid ongoing pandemic restrictions, Faithwire reported.
He must remain behind bars until he commits to not conducting another live service until authorities give him permission to do so, and that’s not something Coates is willing to do, his attorney noted.
As of Feb. 15, there were a total of 129,075 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province of 4,428,112 people, meaning that 2.9% of the population have been sick enough to test positive for the illness since the panic started in January 2020.
Of those confirmed cases, 1,782 people have died, which is 1.3% of people who contracted the illness, or about 0.04% of the province’s total population.
“The congregants of GraceLife refuse to accept the Alberta government’s dystopian ‘new normal,’” said Coates’ attorney James Kitchen. “Their first loyalty is to obey their God, not government.
“They are committed to gathering, as they always have, for in-person worship services. They will challenge this excessive and unlawful government oppression rather than turn their back on their beliefs,” he added. “They also believe they are lawfully exercising their Charter-protected freedoms and that the government’s restrictions are not justifiable.”
The issue of COVID restrictions has divided the Christian church. Some pastors feel it is a Christian’s duty to obey government edicts, while others believe it is equally as important to follow government charters and constitutions that grant specific rights to individuals. Those rights cannot arbitrarily be canceled by government edict, regardless of the reason.
“Governments never destroy civil liberties without pointing to some reason that sounds good, such as ‘safety’ or ‘equality,’” the attorney explained. “The very reason certain rights and freedoms are protected by the Charter is so that government cannot simply ignore those rights by merely asserting its actions are for a good cause.”
To justify its position, the church issued a lengthy public statement on Feb. 7, which was the first time Coates was threatened with arrest.
“We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called ‘pandemic’ is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent,” the statement read.
“As such, we believe love for our neighbor demands that we exercise our civil liberties. We do not see our actions as perpetuating the longevity of COVID-19 or any other virus that will inevitably come along. If anything, we see our actions as contributing to its end – the end of destructive lockdowns and the end of the attempt to institutionalize the debilitating fear of viral infections.”
TGC posted an FAQ about the situation.