Following several earlier decisions siding with religious groups, the leader of a Oneness Pentecostal congregation in Louisiana declares, “Devil, you just got dethroned.â€�
Tony Spell, the first pastor to publicly defy COVID-19 lockdown orders, has won his legal battle against the state of Louisiana two years later.
The state Supreme Court decided 5 to 2 on Friday that the governor did not have a good reason to block Spell’s Oneness Pentecostal church from meeting for worship while other venues received exemptions from public health restrictions.
A 2020 executive order in the Bayou State prohibited gatherings of more than 50, and a subsequent order limited groups to 10, following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention early in the pandemic. Both orders carved out exceptions, however, for airports, grocery stores, factories, office buildings, and other meetings deemed “essential.”
It is a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion to offer legal exemptions to secular groups and not religious ones, the Louisiana court found.
According to Justice William J. Craine, it was also kind of absurd.
“An unlimited number of people were allowed to remain in a single conference room in an office building for an unlimited period of time, all in close proximity, talking, eating, and engaging in any other ‘normal operations’ of the business,” he wrote.
“However, if ten of these individuals left the conference room, walked across the street to a church, and entered an otherwise empty sanctuary building for a worship service, they were subject to criminal prosecution.”
Craine said the government had a legitimate interest in stopping the spread of the coronavirus but couldn’t unfairly disadvantage religious groups.
“We interpret Pastor Spell ’s request not as one for special treatment,” he concluded, …