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Church Politics

Louisiana Pastor Wants Case on Pandemic Church Gathering Restrictions Re-heard

Lawyers for Louisiana pastor Tony Spell asked a federal appeals court this week to resurrect a suit he had filed last summer decrying restrictions on worship during the pandemic, even though the state’s rules have since eased.

About 1,000 of Spell’s supporters protested outside 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as the leader of Life Tabernacle Church in a Baton Rouge suburb appeared with his lawyers to ask that the case be re-heard, the Associated Press reported.

Spell also is disputing a ruling that he was not entitled to damages.

As MinistryWatch reported last year, the church continued to hold large, in-person services throughout the pandemic despite stay-at-home orders issued by against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Spell had sued Edwards, saying that the state rules violated the church’s religious freedom and right to gather. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, calling it moot because restrictions had eased. 

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Even at the height of the pandemic, Spell continued to hold large worship gatherings at the church in defiance of state restrictions despite being placed under house arrest and charged with several misdemeanors.

The pastor at one point vowed to operate services at “125 percent capacity,” per Newsweek, saying, “We will never comply with any anti-God, anti-church, anti-free-American order that says do not have church.” 

Spell faces six state criminal charges related to his actions, the Associated Press reported, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly driving a church bus towards a man protesting against his in-person services. 

Spell had earlier called the Covid-19 “politically motivated” and said he would continue to hold services because the virus was “not a concern.” He also said that “true Christians do not mind dying” for the right to attend church.

A coroner’s report saying a member of his church died of Covid-19 was a “lie,” he said. 

One of Spell’s attorneys also contracted the virus and was hospitalized, Newsweek reported. 

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.