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'A Form of Persecution of the Faith': Pastor Seeks Revival of Lawsuit Challenging Pandemic Restrictions

Pastor Tony Spell waits outside the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Pastor Tony Spell waits outside the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell returned to a federal appeals court in New Orleans Monday with the hope a judge would reinstate his lawsuit filed last May over criminal charges brought against him for holding worship services during the pandemic.

Nearly 100 of Spell's supporters gathered a park across from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where they prayed together and held flags reading "An Appeal to Heaven."

The pastor filed a petition after he was charged with violating state-mandated restrictions for preaching at Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge. He argued the limitations neglected his rights to freedom of speech and religion.

Justice Samuel Alito dismissed Spell's lawsuit against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards last November. 

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Spell said the ban on physical gatherings was not about safety, rather it is "politically motivated" and part of an orchestrated "attack on all Christians across the world," he claimed.

He faced nine criminal charges, including six misdemeanor counts for "breaking the Governor's orders." Spell was also charged with aggravated assault for nearly hitting a protester last April.

Spell asserted that "no confrontation ever took place" during that incident which led to his felony charges. He was placed on house arrest and fitted for a tracking device after refusing to suspend in-person worship services during the pandemic. 

"The State has shown a shocking and unprecedented commitment to criminally prosecuting its strongest dissenter in violation of one of the First Amendment's most precious guarantees: the right of a church, which by definition is an assembly, to decide whether to assemble or not," his lawsuit reads.

Spell's attorneys are also appealing the judge's ruling, that Spell is not entitled to damages. 

CBN's Faithwire previously reported the Louisiana pastor appeared on Dr. Phil's show last March when he told the TV host that such orders are a form of "persecution of the faith." 

"We feel that we are as an essential part of our community as the retail stores," Spell explained. "It is in persecution of the faith for us to be asked to close our doors whenever more people are being contacted in those Targets and Walmarts than are in my service." 

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