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Jesus is waiting: Louisiana Pastor holds church services, defies stay at home order

Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell
Pictured Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell of the
Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell
Pictured Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church.

Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell holds Sunday church services at Life Tabernacle Church despite house arrest order. Does order violate civil rights to congregate and practice faith? 

Is Jesus an essential service?

A Central Louisiana pastor has resumed Sunday church services, defying house arrest orders following an assault charge from last week.

Pastor Tony Spell was charged last week after his decision to hold mass gatherings defied public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Facebook livestream from Life Tabernacle Church on Sunday showed Spell walking among more than 100 congregants, repeating the phrase, ‘I’ve just got to get to Jesus. … Come on America, let’s get back to Jesus.’

An ankle monitor affixed to Pastor Spell could be seen through the cuffs of his pants, the Advocate reports.

LIVE – LIFE TABERNACLE CHURCH in Central, Louisiana, where Rev. Tony Spell has been under house arrest since Saturday for preaching from his pulpit Tuesday night in violation of a judge’s order. Rev. Spell nevertheless came back to his church this morning to preach again. He expected to be arrested after this service. This live broadcast is by Woody Jenkins of Central City News, the community newspaper for Central. “Like” Central City News on Facebook.

Posted by Central City News on Sunday, April 26, 2020

Confrontation with lone protestor: 

Video showed most parishioners not wearing face masks, along with social distancing not being practiced. Preachers were also heard chanting, ‘I stand with Pastor Spell.’

A Facebook posting by the Central Police Department in Baton Rouge said Spell had turned himself in following charges of aggravated assault and improper backing.

The charges follow a confrontation between a lone demonstrator in front of the Louisiana church and that of Pastor Spell last Sunday. Troy Bennet claimed the Pentecostal preacher of nearly hitting him on Sunday with one of the church’s school buses as he purportedly drove the vehicle in reverse in the protestor’s direction. 

Bennet had been petitioning against the church since Easter Sunday, calling for an interim end to the congregation of worshippers following Louisiana state’s stay-at-home mandate, which bans gatherings of more than 10 people.

The coronavirus pandemic has to date forced worshippers resorting to online services.

Pastor Spell already faces misdemeanor charges for holding in-person church services despite the ban on gatherings.

Following his arrest, dozens of Spell’s parishioners met him at the East Baton Rouge Parish prison, dressed in their Sunday best, arriving in church buses to show support.

‘People’s hope is in the house of God….’ 

The pastor’s defiance on Sunday comes as the reverend insists the state’s stay-at-home and social distancing orders, both aimed at limiting the novel coronavirus, violate his and his congregants’ First Amendment rights to assemble and practice their faith.

In a livestream from the church, images including photos from Spell’s arrest, as well as information for a GoFundMe account to help with his legal costs, played over music being performed at the church. Of note, the latest defiance comes after Pastor Spell urged his followers donate their $1200 stimulus check to the church.

Asked if he was aware of the real life havoc that the coronavirus had caused throughout the US, and that health officials advocated social distancing and rigorous protocol against a virus for which a vaccine had yet to be found, Pastor Spell replied, ‘people’s hope is in the house of God.’

WAFB-TV reported that a judge on Friday asked as part of his conditions of release if Spell would comply with state orders that limit the number of people who can gather in one place at the same time.

Spell replied by quoting a Bible verse, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said.

Moore said Spell remained silent when asked a second time. The judge interpreted Spell’s silence to mean he would not comply with those state orders.

Following Sunday services, Pastor Spell had planned to turn himself in to authorities. District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office didn’t plan to pursue the matter following a police shooting in Baton Rouge that tied up law enforcement and his office’s resources.

A judge would also need to issue a warrant for Spell’s arrest if he deemed the pastor violated the conditions of his bond.

‘God gave you an immune system to kill the virus,’ Spell told his flock Sunday morning. ‘I’m not going to bind the virus.’