Supreme Court rejects petition from Louisiana pastor accused of violating ban on large gatherings

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On Friday evening, the United States Supreme Court dismissed a petition from a Louisiana pastor seeking emergency relief for criminal charges he faced for holding services in violation of large gathering restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pastor Tony Spell claimed in a Nov. 18 filing that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ restrictions violated his First Amendment rights. Spell gained national attention after continuing to organize in-person services at Life Tabernacle Church during the pandemic despite state directives.

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Associate Judge Samuel Alito dismissed Spell’s request without comment on Friday, Fox News’ Shannon Bream and Bill Mears reported. The justice refused to refer the case to the plenary Supreme Court.

Pastor Tony Spell speaks to the media after holding an evening service at Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, March 31, 2020 (Associated Press)

Spell faces nine criminal charges, including six counts of “violating governor’s orders,” according to his original filing. He was also charged with a felony for his role in an alleged confrontation with protesters.

The pastor said that “no confrontation ever took place” during the incident which led to his felony charge. Spell was placed under house arrest after refusing to agree to bail terms that required him to stop preaching in his church.

“The state has shown a shocking and unprecedented commitment to criminally prosecute its greatest dissident in violation of one of the most valuable guarantees of the First Amendment: the right of a church, which by definition is an assembly. , to decide to meet or not ”. said the depot.

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Alito was assigned the case because of his jurisdiction over the 5th Circuit Court (all associate judges of the Supreme Court have oversight of the federal circuit courts). Religious leaders in several states have asked the Supreme Court to intervene in disputes relating to the limits of large gatherings in places of worship.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to prevent New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from enforcing attendance limits as part of his “cluster initiative,” which sought to restrict gatherings in areas where a large number of COVID-19 cases had been detected.

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