A Louisiana pastor who defied state orders against large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic has been placed under house arrest.
Tony Spell, of Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central, has been fitted with an ankle bracelet and placed under house after he would not promise to maintain social distancing, his attorney confirmed Sunday. Spell has admitted to violating Louisiana’s mandate to avoid large gatherings by hosting church services.
Spell still showed up to the church’s Sunday service, where he was greeted with cheers, according to a livestream posted on the Facebook. The pastor showed off his ankle monitor while standing in front of his congregation, claiming, “I’m not hiding anymore.”
“It’s a dirty, rotten, crying shame when you have to hide in America,” he said.
Joseph Long, Spell’s attorney, told NBC News in a statement that Spell lived 50 yards from his church, which still planned to host services Sunday. Long characterized the judge’s order as forcing Spell to stop “preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his congregation.”
“The judge has found him in contempt of Court for refusing to promise,” Long said. “Obviously, we believe this is an illegal order in violation of the Constitution, and will litigate the issue.”
Image: Members of the Life Tabernacle Church sing songs as they wait for pastor Tony Spell to leave the East Baton Rouge Jail in Louisiana on April 21, 2020. (Gerald Herbert / AP)
In late March, Spell was issued a summons for violating the governor’s executive order against gatherings of more than 50 people. He hosted a church service of about 500 worshippers.
The following week, Spell was accused of violating the order again. He told CNN that he hosted around 1,220 churchgoers for a Palm Sunday service at his church.
Spell was then arrested Tuesday and charged with assault for allegedly backing up his church bus dangerously close to a protester outside the church. He was met outside the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison by cheering supporters after he posted bail. The pastor insisted he would not give up his rights to worship.
“My right to have church and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ are endowed by my creator — not my district attorney, not my chief of police and not my Gov. John Bel Edwards,” Spell said.
Louisiana has been one of the harder hit states in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 26,000 confirmed cases and at least 1,703 dead as of April 26.