You remember Pastor Tony Spell. The head of Louisiana’s Life Tabernacle Church was first arrested in April — remember April?! — for aggravated assault against a protester. But he became notorious for holding in-person church gatherings and putting countless people in harm’s way. Despite being under house arrest, he defied the law to preach at his nearby church multiple times a week, even asking supporters to send him portions of their stimulus checks.
Spell’s current legal troubles involve a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards for issuing an order that limits the size of gatherings, including church services. Spell claimed that violated his First Amendment rights.
But this week, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson tossed those claims aside, saying essentially that churches aren’t being treated unfairly. If anything, they’ve been given more leeway than public institutions.
Governor Edwards’s Proclamations have always treated comparable secular institutions similarly to comparable religious institutions. In the earliest days of the pandemic, the only businesses or individuals who were treated more leniently than religious organizations were essential workers and businesses, such as healthcare workers and grocery stores. With every restriction on places of worship, identical or more stringent restrictions have been placed on similarly situated secular businesses. Indeed, religious organizations have often been privileged over similar secular businesses.
That’s a fancy way of telling Spell to stop acting like a precious little snowflake. We’re all dealing with the pandemic and he needs to make the same sacrifice as everyone else.
The best thing about this decision? Spell’s claims were dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning he can’t raise the same issue again in court or pursue legal costs. Whatever he’s spent fighting this battle is coming out of his own pocket (or that of his backers).
For what it’s worth, the most recent order in Louisiana isn’t even as restrictive as it ought to be: Rather than prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people or anything like that, the current order allows churches to be filled to 75% of their capacity. It’s far too much. But nothing is good enough for COVID-denying Christian pastors who don’t live in reality.
(via Religion Clause. Portions of this article were published earlier)