Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell returned to the New Orleans federal appeals court on Monday with the expectation of a judge's reinstatement of the lawsuit he filed last May after being charged with breaching state-mandated restrictions.
On Monday, over 100 followers of Pastor Spell gathered at a public park across the street from the 5th U.S. Congress Building to express their support as his attorneys sought to get a case he filed last year challenging the state's coronavirus limitations reinstated, AP reports.
They prayed, listened to speeches, and held flags that said "An Appeal to Heaven." Spell was accompanied across the street by a guy holding a pole with a big cross connected to the top, while another guy nearby carried an American flag.
What's in his suit?
The Louisiana Pastor's lawsuit argues that the emergency orders restricting his services to no more than ten persons and his subsequent citation of allegedly disobeying these orders were a violation of his freedom of speech, freedom of religion and other fundamental constitutional safeguards.
"The State has brought nine criminal charges against Pastor Spell for doing what Christians have done every week for two millennia: going to church. The Governor, who has issued all of the orders relevant herein, has picked and chosen which First Amendment rights to respect and which First Amendment rights to deny. He has even refused the command of his own legislature to cease and desist from making orders," says the lawsuit.
It goes on to claim that the harassment and state restrictions unfairly single out his and other religious organizations and subject them to greater restrictions than are necessary, while businesses declared "essential" during the viral outbreak are open to far larger crowds with little effort made to maintain social distance.
"If Pastor Spell told his congregation to meet at Home Depot, Lowe's, or Walmart, then he apparently would not have been violating the Governor's orders, but since he told them to meet at Life Tabernacle Church, he is facing fines and possible imprisonment," the suit claims.
Justice Samuel Alito, however, dismissed Spell's case against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards last November.
The Advocate reports that Spell's motion for a hearing was denied after lower federal courts in Louisiana found that Edward's coronavirus mitigation orders were "either constitutional or moot" after the expiry of his stay-at-home order.
After refusing to cancel in-person worship services during the epidemic, he was put under house arrest and fitted with an ankle bracelet.
As reported by CBN News in April last year, Spell was also charged with aggravated assault when it was reported that his church bus came dangerously close to striking a protester.
The pastor's attorney, Joseph Long, told NBC News that his client did not intend to harm a protester who was standing close.
"A fair viewing of the video will prove that Spell did not attempt to run over the protester," said Long, "and the protester did not feel threatened, as he never moved when the bus came near."
Nevertheless, Spell was accused with "aggravated assault" and "improper backing," but the charges were dropped.
Spell's visit to the New Orleans federal appeals court comes after reports of courts ruling in favor of several churches in California, even mandating the state under Gov. Newsom to pay back millions in legal fees.