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GraceLife Church pastor should be allowed to lead services until his trial: lawyer

Click to play video: 'Edmonton court hears bail review for GraceLife Church pastor' Edmonton court hears bail review for GraceLife Church pastor
An Edmonton-area pastor will have to wait until Friday to find out if he’ll be released from custody. In James Coates’ bail review, his lawyers argued his incarceration over public health violations is unconstitutional and unreasonable. Fletcher Kent has more – Mar 4, 2021

The lawyer for a pastor accused of holding Sunday services that ignored COVID-19 rules says his client should be released from jail and be free to lead worshippers until his trial.

James Coates with GraceLife Church, west of Edmonton, has been in jail for just over two weeks and is appealing his bail conditions.

Coates is charged with violating Alberta’s Public Health Act and with breaking a promise to abide by conditions of his bail release, which is a Criminal Code offence.

Read more: Who’s responsible for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta?

His lawyer, James Kitchen, told a judge that Coates can’t follow a bail condition that forbids him from holding services, because that would violate his conscience by disobeying God.

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A Crown lawyer argued that the pastor’s release is a danger to the public.

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s Fairview Baptist Church gathers for service in solidarity with GraceLife' Calgary’s Fairview Baptist Church gathers for service in solidarity with GraceLife
Calgary’s Fairview Baptist Church gathers for service in solidarity with GraceLife – Feb 21, 2021

The judge is to make a decision on Friday.

The church has been holding services that officials say break public-health orders on attendance, masking and distancing.

More than 50 people were gathered outside an Edmonton courthouse to pray for Coates during the hearing Thursday.

Supporters of GraceLife Church pastor James Coates outside the Edmonton courthouse on Thursday, March 4, 2021.
Supporters of GraceLife Church pastor James Coates outside the Edmonton courthouse on Thursday, March 4, 2021. Global News

Coates is to stand trial in May.

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The church has continued to hold services, even though Coates is in jail. Many gathered again on the weekend as RCMP and Alberta Health Services monitored the situation.

Read more: Trial date set for Edmonton-area pastor who held church services despite COVID-19 health orders

“Observations were again made that the church held a service beyond the designated capacity,” the Mounties said in a news release.

“The Parkland RCMP remain engaged in continued consultations with several partner agencies to determine the most productive course of action in relation to the church.”

Police fined the church $1,200 in December and a closure order was issued in January.

Coates had been addressing the province’s health restrictions in his sermons. He told worshippers that governments exist as instruments of God and there should be unfettered freedom of worship.

Click to play video: 'Alberta  pastor accused of breaking COVID-19 health rules remains behind bars after refusing to follow conditions' Alberta pastor accused of breaking COVID-19 health rules remains behind bars after refusing to follow conditions
Alberta pastor accused of breaking COVID-19 health rules remains behind bars after refusing to follow conditions – Feb 17, 2021

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