An American pastor who was arrested for flouting social distancing rules and defying lockdown orders has filed a lawsuit against his state governor for prohibiting him from hosting church services. Pastor Tony Spell has asked a federal judge to block the “unconstitutional restrictions” he feels have been placed upon him during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite tehcnically being under house arrest, Spell has continued to hold in-person Sunday services at Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In his lawsuit, Pastor Spell also insists that he has been subject to undue surveillance by the authorities, including, supposedly, the tapping of his phone. He claims that cameras "were installed across the road from the church" and from the dining room window of his home in order "to view those coming and going". The suit adds that "agents of law enforcement followed Pastor Spell everywhere he traveled".
Spell's legal challenge against Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards contains several references to scripture, with his lawyers noting that their client, as a minister of the gospel, must be permitted to "lay hands on the sick and pray for them so that they may become well".
The suit adds: "The Plaintiffs believe that without assembly, the laying on of hands for prayer and healing, the holy communion, and the love offering have lost their meaning unless done in public gathering."
Spell has insisted that his consitutional and ministerial rights are being violated by the current lockdown order, which limits public gatherings to a maximum of ten people.
"This house arrest is to prevent me from preaching," the controversial pastor said in a video shared of him being fitted with an electronic ankle monitoring tag. "That's the judge's words. I do not have the right to preach in my church. Don't let anybody spin that".
He added: "This is not about anything else but forbidding me from going to church and preach to my people." Spell went on to call the arrest "an unethical, illegal, unscrupulous attempt to silence the voice of this preacher."
The house arrest order was issued after Spell was caught on camera reversing a church bus at speed towards a protester who was stationed outside his church.
He was only released from custody on the condition that he “refrain from any and all criminal conduct, including but not limited to strictly abiding by all emergency orders issued by the Governor of the State of Louisiana”. However, when he was asked to confirm he understood this, he refused to reply to the judge and instead chose to recite Bible verses.
Hearings on Spell’s latest lawsuit are anticipated to begin soon.
As of Monday, the state of Louisiana has logged over 31,000 cases of covid-19, with more than 2,000 deaths.