Alberta provincial court Judge Robert Shaigec on Monday dismissed the charter application filed by Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church, who claimed that his religious freedoms were violated when he was fined and arrested for violating public health restrictions over COVID-19. Pastor Coates filed a charter application for a ticket he was issued on December 20 for his offenses against the Public Health Act.
However, the judge ruled that his religious freedoms were not violated despite the condition for his continued imprisonment over holding church service.
"The question today is whether the purpose, manner, or effect of enforcement of that law in December 2020 violated James Coates's religious freedoms. The answer is no," Judge Shaigec said, as per CBC News. The judge decided to have the trial reconvene at the end of this month to decide whether it was unconstitutional for Alberta public health orders to limit attendance capacities at places of worship.
Pastor Coates of GraceLife Church in Parkland County, Alberta was detained at the Edmonton Remand Centre for 35 days after he defied a court order that prevented him from holding church services that authorities believed did not comply with capacity limits, physical distancing, and mask wearing as part of Alberta's public health guidelines for COVID-19. On March 22, he was released after he pleaded guilty. He was also fined $1,500.
In May during his cross examination, Pastor Coates challenged one of the charges he still faces under the Public Health Act and argued that the public health restrictions had trampled on his religious freedom and peaceful assembly rights, both of which are constitutional under the law.
Faithwire reported that according to Pastor Coates' representatives at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the judge did acknowledge the "sincerity of Pastor Coates' religious convictions" but said that his religious freedoms were not "reasonably threatened in more than an insubstantial way."
This is despite the fact that he had already remained in prison for 35 days, time he used to preach to other prisoners. Judge Shaigec argued however, that the 35-day detention in jail for failing to comply with COVID restrictions did not violate his religious freedom because Pastor Coates could have been released earlier had he agreed to comply with "a single condition."
This condition meant Coates would refrain from leading and preaching in church services, and limiting church attendance to just 15%. Pastor Coates did not accept the condition, saying it "violated his conscious as a pastor," and was forced to stay in jail until his release.
Pastor Coates' and his lawyers are determined to prove that Alberta's health orders are infringing their rights to freedom of expression and religion and that they were being "singled out" by government and law enforcement officials.
"The argument that James Coates was forced to either forsake his conscience or secure his liberty has been answered," Judge Shaigec argued. "Religious freedoms are subject to the rule of law."
Pastor Coates maintains that COVID-19 restrictions are "part of an agenda to transform our nation." His trial will continue and lawyers will convene on June 30 to determine the date of the next hearing.