Canadian Pastor James Coates was recently moved to a general population cell after spending most of two weeks alone following his mid-February incarceration for refusing to comply with COVID-19 church restrictions.
Coates was quarantined for two weeks upon being arrested with only two 15-minute blocks per day outside of his jail cell, his wife told Christian news outlet FaithWire in a recent statement.
He initially shared a cell with another inmate but was removed due to the high-profile nature of his case, Erin Coates stated in an email.
Erin Coates said she is unable to visit him due to COVID-19 restrictions but has been able to speak with him during video calls.
Coates, the pastor of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, was arrested for holding church services for three consecutive weeks after his church was ordered to close at the end of January for violating gathering and physical distancing restrictions.
Coates turned himself into the police on Feb. 16 and faces two counts of violating the Public Health Act. He was also charged for failing to comply with his bail conditions requiring him to not conduct or participate in services that are not compliant with government guidelines after being released from custody the first time.
He was detained at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
In a court document, Erin Coates said her husband could not agree to the provisions of the Public Health Act in good conscience.
According to a statement by Parkland County Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the escalated levels of law enforcement with Coates were consistent and in response to the effects his actions could have on the health and safety of citizens.
Coates and GraceLife Church’s attorneys argued that the bail conditions and health orders “violate his Charter freedoms of conscience, religion, expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
The Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn ruled on March 5 that Coates must remain behind bars until his trial scheduled for May 3 to May 5.
GraceLife Church, which has been holding services in Coates’ absence, was faced with more charges on March 4 for violating restrictions and exceeding 15% of the church’s operational capacity, or about 90 people, for the last two Sundays of February.
The church’s legal counsel was summoned to attend Stony Plain Provincial Court on May 5, according to a police report.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents Coates, filed an appeal to release Coates before his trial. His wife also issued a sworn affidavit detailing the implications of her husband’s imprisonment on herself, their two sons, the church and the community.
“A trial set eight weeks down the road is too long for an innocent Pastor to be in jail,” John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre, said in a statement.
“Pastor Coates is a peaceful Christian minister. The Justice of the Peace should not have required him to violate his conscience and effectively stop pastoring his church as a condition to be released. This is a miscarriage of justice.”
Coates’ attorney James Kitchen, who works with the Justice Centre, said that his client’s “first obedience is to his Lord, is to his God.”
“And normally, obeying Jesus and obeying the government go right in hand,” Kitchen stated. “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.”
The church released a statement in February addressing the ramifications of COVID-19 and the destructiveness of shutting down churches indefinitely. The church said it originally shifted to online services when COVID-19 first appeared and returned to in-person gatherings on June 21, 2020.
“We believe [people] should responsibly return to their lives,” the church’s statement reads. “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.”