Protesters rallied at the Edmonton Remand Center yesterday to protest the ongoing lockup of Pastor James Coates, The GraceLife Church minister who remains quarantined in a maximum-security prison. Coates is the first religious leader to be arrested for preaching in Canada in nearly 200 years, the result of defying a public health order that caps indoor church services at 15% capacity, along with strict social distancing protocol, masking policies, and prohibitions on corporate worship.
After Coates was arrested he was given the opportunity to be released, despite the wishes of the prosecution. With no criminal record and health violations rarely if ever accompanied by jail time, the Judge was primed to set him free, but then put a condition on him that he not step foot on church property, and especially not call his church to worship again from the pulpit.
Refusing to abide by those conditions due to deep religious and personal conviction, Coates was remanded until one of three things happen.
- The Crown Prosecutor relents and abandons the conditions.
- His lawyer wins a successful appeal at his conditions hearing, which is set for February 24th.
- He has his trial , which could be several months away.
Thankfully, it seems he has not wasted his prison time, with confirmed reports that he has been preaching and sharing the gospel with those within earshot of him.
As a result of his confinement, a rally was held at the Remand Center, with shouts of “Free Pastor James” reverberating through the air. These protests and protesters are not affiliated with the church leadership, nor are they endorsed by the elders, but rather are regular folk wanting to be heard and show their support.
With news beginning to attract mainstream attention of Pastor Coates’ arrest, so has the outrage that he remains locked up. His story has been covered by all the papers nationally, and it is stiffening the spine of fellow Christians.
A change.org petition has over 7200 signatures and the Premiere of Alberta, Jason Kenney is being hammered mercilessly for this. In light of an onslaught of criticism, the embattled leader and professing devout Roman Catholic still maintained that a pandemic was not time to be delivering “libertarian sermons.” He wrote on his Facebook page:
Just yesterday I joined many fellow believers at an Edmonton Church to participate in Ash Wednesday observances…As a Christian, I call on fellow believers to be guided by the principle of the sanctity of human life in how we act during this pandemic…One or two congregations have chosen flagrantly to violate all public health guidelines. In doing so, they are risking viral transmission that could cost vulnerable lives. That is why I renew my call for all faith communities to responsibly exercise their freedom of worship in a way that shows love for our neighbors and regard for the weak and the vulnerable.”
With the separation of powers, Kenny pointed out in an interview with Danielle Smith that he can’t comment on or interfere with a legal case, and that he doesn’t incarcerate or release people.
That may be true, but his government does control the extent and magnitude of the lockdown and could give churches the freedom to gather tomorrow if he wanted, and the people are not buying his protestations. He may have to let the justice system take its course with Coates, but he can ensure there are no more arrests and jailing of Pastors in Alberta over this ever again.
Consequently, this is not likely to go away soon.
There is a scheduled rally for February 20 at 1:00pm at the prison, with up to 1000 people expected to attend and show their support.
Furthermore, as a result of Pastor Coates being arrested and his prayer that his example might be a seed that is planted in the fertile ground and blooms, several Churches have announced that they too will be opening or broadcasting the fact that they are open in solidarity with GraceLife Church, including Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary that writes:
The church further explains:
This act of worship will be recognized as defiance to many, but it is born out of conviction to honor Christ, stand with our brothers and sisters in this province, and faithfully uphold the truth as the church is called to do (1 Timothy 3:15).
All will be welcome but your involvement is strictly voluntary. I know many will have fear or wrestle with uncertainty. For your encouragement, other churches are planning to also stand in solidarity for Christ and the freedom of the church to worship. Pray that the Lord would add to our number.
And all God’s people said…..?