Louisiana judges issue COVID-related charges against pastor | New Policies
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday dismissed charges against a pastor who violated restrictions on gatherings at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ruling that the governor’s executive orders violated freedom of religion.
“This is a tremendous victory for religious civil liberties and it has proven us right in our…battle with the governor who is trying to close churches,” said the Reverend Tony Spell, who came to national attention when his congregation continued to meet in the spring of 2020, when much of the nation was on lockdown.
Governor John Bel Edwards disagrees but accepts the decision, spokesman Richard Carbo said. “Every action Governor Edwards has taken throughout the COVID pandemic has been taken with the goal of protecting the health of the public and saving lives,” Carbo said in a text message.
The majority of the Supreme Court found that numerous secular exemptions showed that religious groups were not given sufficient consideration in mid-March 2020, when Edwards first limited gatherings to less than 50 people and, about a week later tightened the limit to 10.
The filing does not include any evidence that “gatherings in secular settings like office buildings and airports created less of a risk of virus transmission than such interactions at gatherings in a church building,” wrote the Judge William J. Crain.
There was too little evidence on anything to make a decision, Chief Justice John L. Weimer wrote in his dissent. For example, Chief Justice John Weimer wrote that there was no evidence as to whether churches’ worship or religious practices were affected when they held services outdoors or online.
Carbo said Edwards never closed places of worship because he recognized their importance during the pandemic. “The governor has worked closely with faith leaders throughout the pandemic, and all have been encouraged to hold services as safely as possible to protect their congregations,” he wrote.
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