BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Rev. Tony Spell ministered to a crowd at his church while wearing an ankle monitor Sunday, April 26, despite being placed on house arrest.
A judge on Friday, April 24, 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.
Spell is pastor of a church in Central, La. where dozens of members continue to congregate at the same time that government officials around the globe try to limit in-person interactions.
Gatherings are believed to contribute to the spread of COVID-19, the virus blamed for a global pandemic that has killed thousands.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards banned groups of more than 10 people from gathering in the state at any one time, including in churches.
People can be temporarily excluded from having to comply with the order to perform tasks deemed “essential.”
Church services are not included among those “essential” tasks.
The governor can legally issue such orders during the pandemic under state law.
Spell intentionally ministered in-person to crowds of hundreds after that order was given.
He claims the order preventing gatherings is “politically motivated” and an "attack on all Christians across the world.”
Spell argues religious gatherings are constitutionally-protected and not subject to state orders.
“If this is not about religion, then are the Waltons not being issued summons and arrested for keeping Walmart open?” Spell previously said. “Nobody will tell us as God-fearing Christians and Americans that we are non-essential in our society.”
Spell was later issued six misdemeanor counts of disobeying the powers of the governor, after officials grew tired of trying to convince Spell to stop holding services.
Protestors began regularly gathering outside of Spell’s church soon after.
One protestor was standing near the church in late April when Spell allegedly backed a bus toward him.
Video of the alleged incident shows the bus coming to a stop just short of where the protester was standing.
“I could see him [Spell] driving the bus. He was honking his horn loudly at me and making gestures suggesting he was yelling while he was driving. It didn’t seem real until it was physically in my face with a bus,” said Trey Bennett, the protester.
Spell said he wanted to get out and confront Bennett. He claims he wasn’t going to hit Bennett.
Officers charged Spell with aggravated assault and improper backing as a result of the incident.
Spell was released from custody on the condition that he “refrain from any and all criminal conduct, including but not limited to strictly abiding by the all emergency orders issued by the Governor of the State of Louisiana.”
He had to appear before the judge Friday to agree to those terms.
District Attorney Moore said Spell choosing to remain silent will likely present a contempt of court issue that will need to be addressed.
Moore said efforts by his office to have Spell’s bond revoked are still pending in court.
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