EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, La. (BRPROUD) — The Central pastor whose crowded gatherings have openly defied COVID-19-related capacity limits faced another setback in a Baton Rouge court Monday.
District Judge Eboni Johnson-Rose denied Pastor Tony Spell’s motion to dismiss six criminal counts against him.
The charges stem from services at Life Tabernacle Church, where Spell has attacked Gov. John Bel Edwards’ restrictions as anti-religious scare tactics.
“You just ruled against God,” Spell said outside the 19th Judicial District courthouse. “Get ready for the judgment of God.”
The pastor learned of the ruling through his attorneys, because his refusal to wear a mask barred him from the courthouse.
Dozens from his flock joined him outside the building — where they eschewed masks, held American flags and wore T-shirts in support of “free breathing.”
“We will never comply, and we will always resist,” Spell said. “We will always stand up for the word of God and the First Amendment of the United States.”
The judge maintained that the constitutionality of Edwards’ order has already been decided, with courts ruling that it applies equally to churches, restaurants, stores and other public places.
“If a religion begins to declare that it can do whatever it wants to do, then we are no longer a nation of laws,” attorney Darrel Papillion argued in court Monday, on behalf of East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore’s office.
Spell plans to take his case for dismissal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Spell’s next court proceeding is March 1.
The pastor — who faces jailtime, if convicted — has shown no intention of changing his Sunday routine anytime soon.
“If you’re afraid of the virus, stay away from us,” Spell said in an interview after the ruling. “As for us and our house, we’re going to serve God. We’re going to be bold and fearless and have faith.”
His persistence comes as COVID-19 still rages. Louisiana has reported more than 386,000 cases — and nearly 8,600 deaths — since the pandemic began in early 2020. More than 25 million cases have been reported nationally, with more than 420,000 deaths.