James Coates, the lead minister of GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada, is now in prison for not agreeing to cease holding in-person worship services in compliance with the country's COVID-19 restrictions.
Officials from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police confronted Coates after a worship service he held at GraceLife on February 7th.
"The officers told Pastor Coates that he was under arrest and must agree to stop breaching the [government's] Orders," the Justice Centre reported. "Pastor Coates explained to the officers that he could not do that because to do so would violate his conscience and prevent him from fulfilling his duty as a minister to lead his congregation in worship. The officers then left, without arresting him."
But following Coates' February 14th sermon, he was notified by the government that he would be arrested Tuesday, and they requested that he turn himself in. Coates complied and was informed that he would not be released until he agrees to stop preaching at in-person gatherings that don't comply with government orders.
GraceLife's pastoral staff has taken a bold stance against the government's continued restrictions, even issuing a statement calling on citizens and families to begin exercising their civil liberties before they are gone.
"We believe [people] should responsibly return to their lives," the statement read. "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."
The statement continued, outlining that far from being limited to just coronavirus exposure, health risks are associated with any action humans take.
"Living life comes with risks," the pastors wrote. "Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we are assuming a degree of risk. We accept that risk due to the benefits of driving. Yes, though vastly overblown, there are associated risks with Covid, as there are with other infections. Human life, though precious, is fragile. As such, death looms over all of us. That is why we need a message of hope."
GraceLife has a congregation of around 400. It was not immediately clear if the church will be meeting for in-person services next Sunday, and if so, who would be preaching.