High court to hear pastor’s case against virus charges
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear arguments in a pastor’s fight against criminal charges he faces for violations of pandemic gathering limits that were in effect last year.
Tony Spell got national attention when he began to flout the state’s public health order in March 2020 at a time when much of the country was in lockdown due to the emergence of COVID-19. Louisiana was being hit especially hard at the time, but hundreds showed up to hear Spell claim that the virus, which has now killed more than 780,000 Americans, is nothing to be concerned about.
A state judge earlier this year had refused to throw out the charges against Spell, whose Life Tabernacle Church is in the Baton Rouge area.
An appeal court agreed. But the state Supreme Court accepted the case for arguments Tuesday. A hearing date hasn’t been set.
Gov. John Bel Edwards in March 2020 had issued a public health ban on gatherings of more than 50 people to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Spell has long argued that Edwards’ virus restrictions violated First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom. While fighting the criminal charges, Spell is also seeking damages over the restrictions in federal court.