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La. Supreme Court sides with controversial pastor who was arrested for violating COVID restrictions
CENTRAL - A Louisiana pastor who was arrested for ignoring restrictions on gatherings in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic will not face punishment after the state's highest court ruled in his favor.
The ruling released by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday said Governor John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home mandate and other restrictive orders were unconstitutionally applied to Tony Spell and his church, Life Tabernacle in Central.
Police arrested Spell in 2020 after he ignored warnings from the state to stop holding large services at the church, which violated the order's gathering limit of 50 people.
At the time, Spell claimed that up to 1,000 people attended each of the services at his church.
The East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office, which was initially tasked with prosecuting Spell's case, released a statement criticizing the court's decision.
"We are still reviewing today’s decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court. While we respect the Court’s decision regarding the complex issues of fact and law presented in this important case, we believe the dissenting opinion of the Chief Justice is more correct, and, at a minimum, this matter should have been remanded to the district court for further development of the record in light of the evolving jurisprudence as well as the evolving scientific understanding of the health and public safety issues implicated by the Governor’s orders. While we are mindful and respectful of the strong interest in protecting the free exercise of religion, we believe we had an obligation to protect the public and the rule of law."
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