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Life Tabernacle Church pastor Tony Spell flashes a 'V' for vitory, as he walks to the gate to leave East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and speak to his supporters and media gathered outside after he was arrested, booked then released on bond, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Spell, who has defied the prohibition of large gatherings put in place because of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic and continued to hold services, was arrested on a Tuesday on allegations he tried to hit a protester Sunday with one of his buses.

The Central pastor who defied the coronavirus stay-at-home order was placed on house arrest Saturday morning after refusing to tell a state district judge whether he would continue to hold religious services.

Judge Fred Crifasi of the 19th Judicial District Court put Rev. Tony Spell, the controversial pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, on house arrest at 9 a.m. 

Spell was arrested Tuesday morning and booked into parish prison on misdemeanor counts after a protester accused the Pentecostal preacher of nearly hitting him on Sunday with one of the church's school buses along Hooper Road. 

Spell has disputed the protester's story. He was released from Parish Prison midday Tuesday to joyous followers after his wife, Shaye, posted cash bail of $5,000.

However, one condition of Spell's release is that he "refrain from any and all criminal conduct, including but not limited to strictly abiding by the all emergency orders issued by the Governor of the State of Louisiana."

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Saturday that Spell did not clearly tell the judge whether he will continue to defy the governor's coronavirus stay-at-home order by having services at his Life Tabernacle Church on Sunday.

On Friday, Spell had a deadline of 5 p.m. to answer the judge about his intentions to hold services. It was extended to 5:45 p.m., but he only responded with a quote from the Bible.

Long said Spell cited 1 Peter 3:14 , which says: "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled."

The judge then asked Spell directly if he intended to continue to hold services Sunday, in defiance of Gov. John Bel Edward's order, according to Moore. Spell did not respond, which the judge took as an indication he would preside over services this weekend.

Spell's attorney, Joe Long, said he does not know whether Spell plans to hold services Sunday. 

"As far as I know, there will be church, whether or not he participates," Long said. "I don’t know whether he plans on doing it. He’s praying on it."

In a Saturday video posted by the Central City News from Spell's home, the pastor did not clearly say whether he would hold services, though he emphasized his right to worship as fundamental to his faith.

“I promise you, I will continue to do what I do," Spell said. "This is not about me. This is about our religious liberties.”

Right before he was fitted with the ankle monitor, administered by a man in personal protective equipment, Spell noted that he still had much to say, but that, "tomorrow at 12 o’clock, my voice will be silenced for several months. You will not hear from me again.”

He did not expand on his statement. 

Spell has flouted state stay-at-home and social distancing orders aimed at limiting the novel coronavirus, saying the limits violate his and his congregants' First Amendment rights to assemble and practice their faith.

He has garnered international attention for his and his church's stand against the orders, attracting praise from some Christian groups but also plenty of criticism and a handful of regular protesters outside his church on Hooper Road.

Editors note: This story's headline was updated April 26 to reflect the condition of the Rev. Tony Spell's bond barred him from violating the governor's order by holding large church services. 


Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com