A Louisiana pastor is holding services in his church again, defying house arrest orders that followed an assault charge. 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, often repeating the phrase, “I’ve just got to get to Jesus. … Come on America, let’s get back to Jesus.” Nearly all parishioners were not wearing face masks, and social distancing was not being practiced.
The police department in Central, a suburb Baton Rouge, says on their Facebook page that Spell turned himself into the department last week on charges of aggravated assault and improper backing.
Trey Bennett has kept up a one-man demonstration in front of the church since Easter Sunday, when he noticed hundreds of parishioners still attending services in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home mandate, which bans gatherings of more than 10 people. Houses of worship across Louisiana have turned to online services instead.
Last Sunday, Spell drove a church bus in reverse in the direction of the sign-holding protester. Spell already faces misdemeanor charges for holding in-person church services despite the ban on gatherings.
Dozens of Spell’s parishioners met him at the East Baton Rouge Parish prison, dressed in their Sunday best, arrived in church buses to show support. 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
CBS affiliate WAFB-TV reported that a judge on Friday asked Spell if he’d 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.