Louisiana Pastor Violates House Arrest to Hold Church Service

Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell violated his house arrest to hold a church service today after he was accused last week of backing a bus toward a coronavirus protester outside his Life Tabernacle Church.

Spell wore an ankle monitor and referenced his arrest, telling his congregation on Sunday that it's a "dirty rotten shame when you're hiding in America," according to The Advocate. He purposely breached Louisiana's stay-at-home and social distancing orders amid the coronavirus pandemic and condemned the restrictions as infringement on his First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Upon his release from Parish Prison last week, Spell was ordered to refrain from any further criminal conduct and told to abide by Governor John Bel Edwards' emergency orders. The pastor had reportedly planned on turning himself into authorities after the service on Sunday, but law enforcement resources were occupied with a shooting in Baton Rouge.

The Life Tabernacle Church has continued to hold worship services despite efforts by the state to limit the coronavirus' spread. After a coroner determined that one member of his congregation had died from COVID-19 complications, Spell called the findings a "lie." It has not been determined where the man caught the virus.

Despite thousands of domestic virus-related deaths, Spell has underplayed the severity of the novel disease, calling it political. These ideas mimic those promoted by President Donald Trump and his allies in the early stages of the outbreak.

His refusal to close down his church has drawn widespread criticism. Last week, Spell was arrested for allegedly backing a church bus toward a man protesting his refusal to adhere to government lockdown measures. Security footage of the incident showed a bus backing up to Trey Bennett, who identified himself as the protester. The vehicle halts before it hits Bennett as he's holding a sign.

"I could see him 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," Bennett told WAFB 9 News.

The Central Police Department on Tuesday issued Spell with an arrest warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Spell told the local news site that Bennett had been standing "in front of my church driveway for three weeks now. He shoots people obscene finger gestures and shouts vulgarities."

After being released on bond, Spell vowed to continue ignoring the state's stay-at-home orders to preach that very evening. He also declared his innocence, saying he wasn't "guilty of any charges I have been accused of."

"I am not guilty of defying any orders," he said. "The only thing I am guilty of is practicing my faith which was given to me by Jesus Christ himself."

Newsweek reached out to the Life Tabernacle Church for comment.

Tony Spell
Pastor Tony Spell talks to the media as he drives a bus of congregants from Life Tabernacle Church after Easter church services on April 12, 2020 in Central, Louisiana. Chris Graythen/Getty