The pastor of a Central church who has defied state orders to limit the number of congregants at his worship services violated another order Sunday — preaching from the pulpit despite a judge's directive that he stay at home under house arrest.

Wearing an ankle monitor attached after he was accused of threatening to run over a protester outside his Life Tabernacle Church last Sunday, the Rev. Tony Spell told his congregation it's a "dirty rotten shame when you're hiding in America." Its members sang and waved signs reading "I stand with Pastor Spell."

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

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."

Spell had planned to turn himself in to the parish jail following the service. District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office didn't plan to pursue the matter Sunday after a Baton Rouge police officer was fatally shot and another injured in a shooting that tied up law enforcement and his office's resources.

A judge would also need to issue a warrant for Spell's arrest if he deemed the pastor violated the conditions of his bond.  

The pastor has said the state's stay-at-home and social distancing orders, both aimed at limiting the novel coronavirus, violate his and his congregants' First Amendment rights to assemble and practice their faith.

At least one church member had died after contracting COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new virus, and a lawyer tapped to represent the church's fight to hold services was hospitalized.

It isn't known where the men contracted the virus.

Spell has told congregants who've attended services to refrain from touching each other and to stay home if they're sick.

"God gave you an immune system to kill the virus," Spell told his flock Sunday morning. "I'm not going to bind the virus."

Along with the recent aggravated assault and improper backing infractions, Spell has also been cited on  six misdemeanor counts of violating the governor's stay-at-home order.

The house arrest order and condition he remain on his property about 50 yards from the church and refrain from criminal activity — including violating the state's ban on large gatherings — stem from the assault charge.

Parish officials have noted other houses of worship have streamed their services in place of in-person gatherings.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad