Wearing ankle bracelet after arrest for allegedly threatening to run over protester, defiant pastor tells congregation: 'Come out of your hiding, America'
Louisiana pastor Tony Spell wore a court-issued ankle bracelet while defying a statewide stay-at-home order to host a packed church service on Sunday during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Pentecostal preacher of Life Tabernacle Church in Central led services inside the church and sought donations to his legal defence despite being placed on house arrest after refusing to tell a judge whether he would continue to lead services at the church.
Pastor Spell was arrested and jailed on Tuesday after allegedly threatening to run over a protester in a church school bus. He has disputed the protester's account and claimed his innocence. His wife Shaye posted his $5,000 bail later that day.
A condition of his release is that he "refrain from any and all criminal conduct, including but not limited to strictly abiding by the all emergency orders" issued under Governor John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home measure.
He told his congregation on Sunday: "God gave you an immune system to fight that virus ... Come out of your hiding, America." Read more
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Churchgoers waved signs reading "I Stand With Pastor Spell" as he preached and sang from the pulpit in a livestreamed video of his service. An ankle bracelet monitoring his location was visible around his pants.
In a Saturday video posted by Central City News from the pastor's home, Mr Spell did not indicate whether he would hold a Sunday service but claimed he has the right to worship under the state order.
He said: "I promise you, I will continue to do what I do ... This is not about me. This is about our religious liberties." Watch more
The 'phantom plague' in America's Bible Belt hits congregations
Pastor Spell is among several conservative Christian leaders urging followers to continue worshipping in groups, despite public health warnings to avoid crowds to prevent transmitting the virus.
He has attracted international media attention after routinely flouting the state's rules and physical distancing guidelines by holding services for dozens of people inside his church.
Louisiana's statewide quarantine measure has been extended through April.
As of Sunday, more than 25,500 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the state, including at least 1,644 deaths, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.