La. Supreme Court rules COVID order violated 1st amendment religious rights

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Pastor Tony Spell of Central, La., won a major victory in court Friday with the Louisiana Supreme Court ruling his First Amendment rights were violated by the COVID restrictions issued during the pandemic by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Spell continued holding church services that violated the state's prohibition on large gatherings and stay-at-home mandates. He began his legal battle in April 2020 and has been fighting six misdemeanor charges of violating the state's emergency COVID restrictions.

Those restrictions categorized religious services as "non-essential" gatherings and limited their attendance to just 50 people and later 10 as restrictions tightened in the early months of the pandemic as the state grappled with high infection rates.

Spell was a very public opponent of those orders, calling out Gov. Edwards in the media and busing worshippers to his Life Tabernacle Church by the hundreds.

"In this country, we don't jail people for holding church," Jeff Wittenbrink, Spell's attorney, said while challenging the misdemeanor violations in court.

Lower courts had upheld the charges against him until the state Supreme Court ruled in his favor and ordered the charges dismissed.

Justices John Weimer and Scott Chrichton were the only dissenters.

You can read the full ruling here.