Two days after the Supreme Court of Louisiana found that Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home order during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was unconstitutional and violated the religious freedom of Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle, he announced that he would be filing a lawsuit for his wrongful arrests.
“Friday, May 13, 2022, was a bad day for socialism, communism, tyranny [and] Satan, but it was a landmark day for freedom of religion, the Constitution of the United States and God’s Holy Word,” Spell declared from his pulpit Sunday, celebrating the decision.
In the opinion reversing criminal charges against Spell for violating Edwards’ orders, William J. Crain, associate justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, noted, “In this criminal proceeding, we find certain provisions of two executive orders, as applied to defendant, violate his fundamental right to exercise religion, do not survive strict scrutiny, and are thus unconstitutional.”
In comments stating his intention to get justice for what he and his congregants were forced to endure during the pandemic, Spell said they suffered “irreparable damage.”
"Everything you did was wrong, and now because of what you did, there's now a religious liberty precedent that's been set that's going to go for generations," Spell said in a message directed at Louisiana officials.
“We're filing this week for wrongful arrests, forbidden to leave the front door of our house, ankle bracelet, the shame, the humility, the damage, irreparable damage done to us, so we're going after them now," he added.
The East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office, which was initially tasked with prosecuting Spell's case, criticized the decision of the Louisiana State Supreme Court on Friday.
"We are still reviewing today’s decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court," the statement cited by WBRZ said. "While we respect the Court’s decision regarding the complex issues of fact and law presented in this important case, we believe the dissenting opinion of the Chief Justice is more correct, and, at a minimum, this matter should have been remanded to the district court for further development of the record in light of the evolving jurisprudence as well as the evolving scientific understanding of the health and public safety issues implicated by the Governor’s orders."
“While we are mindful and respectful of the strong interest in protecting the free exercise of religion, we believe we had an obligation to protect the public and the rule of law,” it further noted.
In 2021, a state judge refused to dismiss charges against Spell, alleging he violated the governor’s order. In 2020, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito also rejected the pastor’s request to hear his case after lower federal courts ruled the governor’s coronavirus restrictions were either constitutional or the case became moot once his stay-at-home order lapsed.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore had offered Spell a chance to plead no contest to one of the misdemeanor charges he faced in exchange for dropping five other charges in 2021, but he rejected the offer.
Spell and a vocal minority of pastors during the pandemic drew national attention for disobeying state and local COVID-19 restrictions on in-person and outdoor worship gatherings. In one sermon live-streamed on Facebook, Spell offered divine protection to churchgoers from the virus.
On Sunday, Spell credited the victory to God's divine work standing against the Antichrist's spirit seeking to silence the church.
“You might have prevailed against politics; you might have prevailed against sports, against marriage between a man and a woman, and in the abortion clinics,” he said. “But you have not prevailed in God’s Church.”