On Sunday, Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, broke his house arrest to hold church services.
Spell was placed under house arrest on Saturday after he allegedly wouldn’t properly answer District Judge Fred Crifasi, who twice asked the pastor if he would “comply with state orders that limit the number of people who can gather in one place at the same time,” reports WAFB.
The house arrest follows weeks of Spell defying state orders pertaining to large gatherings, as well as an incident on April 19 in which he allegedly backed up his church bus to within feet of a protester before suddenly stopping.
Video footage from multiple sources shows not only the incident with the bus, but one in which a white pickup truck swerves to within feet of the protester before appearing to enter the church parking lot.
According to Central Police, following the issuance of an arrest warrant, Spell turned himself in, and was arrested for “aggravated assault” and “improper backing.” Central Police add that Spell “was also a fugitive with outstanding traffic warrants in the city of Zachary and East Baton Rouge Parish.”
Spell later left the jail after bail was posted.
“Spell admitted in an interview with WAFB that he was driving the bus and said he simply wanted to get out and confront the protester, but his wife convinced him otherwise,” according to CBS News.
Additionally, Central Police had previously served Spell with “a misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the governor’s executive order (LA R.S. 29:724E) following his decision to host multiple large gatherings.”
The Advocate reports that “one condition of Spell’s release” was that the pastor “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.”
However, as a result of Spell’s alleged refusal to answer the judge directly as to whether he would comply, the pastor was placed under house arrest and given an ankle monitor.
According to The Advocate: “The house arrest order and condition he remains on his property about 50 yards from the church and refrains from criminal activity – including violating the state’s ban on gatherings – stem from the assault charge.”
A Facebook livestream from Sunday shows Spell entering Life Tabernacle to great applause. As congregants wept and cheered, Spell walked to the stage with his ankle monitor visible below his right pant leg, holding a bible high above his head.
After singing a few solos, Spell began speaking.
“We’re gonna practice social distancing. If you ain’t from the same house, don’t touch. If you ain’t afraid, this is a free country, do what you do,” the pastor stated. Spell also displayed and adjusted his ankle monitor, and said, “We’re not hiding anymore. It’s a dirty, rotten, crying shame when you have to hide in America.”
He later added that “the virus don’t have a brain, but we can bind fear right now. God gave you an immune system to kill that virus. You gonna need it. So I’m not gonna bind the virus, I’m gonna bind the spirit of fear in America right now.”
Spell posted the following photo to his personal Facebook page the day after Easter Sunday, showing parishioners packed together near the front of the church:
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, there have been a reported 1,670 deaths related to COVID-19 in the state.
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