Supreme Court won’t hear Louisiana pastor’s coronavirus case

The Supreme Court declined to get involved in the case of a Louisiana pastor facing criminal charges for violating large gathering coronavirus restrictions by holding church services during the pandemic, Fox News reported. 

Justice Samuel Alito on Friday rejected the petition of Life Tabernacle Church pastor Tony Spell, without involving other justices in the decision and without comment. Alito is the representative for the 5th circuit where the case resides.

Spell was charged with nine criminal charges in May, including six misdemeanor counts of violating Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions and a felony for a confrontation with protesters that Spell says never happened. He was put under house arrest after he refused to agree to bail conditions that he not preach at the church while restrictions were in place.

Spell argued in an emergency relief petition filed Nov. 18 that the charges and house arrest were in violation of his First Amendment rights.

Prosecuting churches

“The State has shown a shocking and unprecedented commitment to criminally prosecuting its strongest dissenter in violation of one of the First Amendment’s most precious guarantees: the right of a church, which by definition is an assembly, to decide whether to assemble or not,” the filing read.

The court’s refusal to hear the case comes just days after it ruled in a 5-4 decision to block New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo from restricting worship gatherings to 10 or 25 people during certain phases of its coronavirus restrictions.

In that case, Alito sided with the majority that the restrictions on religious gatherings violated the First Amendment because they were more severe than those placed on businesses under the same phases.

For instance, in New York’s orange phase, churches could only have up to 25 people, while businesses were not restricted at all in their capacity.


Cases like these are part of an ongoing battle over how much power governors and other government officials have to place restrictions on religious worship gatherings, which are protected under the First Amendment right to assemble and to religious expression.

The issue isn’t as simple as it may seem, given that there have been different rulings in a number of different cases.

When the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still on the court, the court ruled against two other churches in California and Nevada who argued coronavirus restrictions violated their First Amendment rights.

Now, with the newly appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to solidify its conservative bent, the court has delivered victories for religious freedom, even when Chief Justice John Roberts sides with the liberal wing.

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