Pastor Describes Ordeal In Gripping Testimony On Religious Persecution

In dramatic testimony before the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice Wednesday, Rev. Tony Spell, pastor of Central’s Life Tabernacle Church, told of the persecution he has suffered from Gov. John Bel Edwards, who ordered him arrested and his church closed.

Rev. Spell spoke in favor of the bill but was only given five minutes to recount seven months of persecution. In the time given, he testified about his being threatened with arrest for holding church, arrested, imprisoned, fitted with an ankle bracelet, ordered to home confinement, held in contempt, and ordered not to go to the church or preach. Six surveillance cameras were placed around the church and his residence, he and church members were followed, and law enforcement went through the parking lot recording license numbers of church members.

Most disturbing to legislators was the testimony of church members that they had been fired from their jobs for attending Life Tabernacle.  Eight members have reported they were terminated. Five were present at the hearing, and three testified for three minutes each. The meeting was held by the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice at the Capitol. The subject of the hearing was HB 9 by Rep Danny McCormick. It would prohibit any criminal or civil penalties being assessed against a pastor for violating the governor’s emergency orders.

Rev. Spell has so far been the only person in the state arrested for violating the governor’s orders. After about 30 minutes hearing witnesses, Rep. Alan Seabaugh moved to report the bill favorably. The motion passed 6-3.  

The vote was a surprise because Rep. Denise Marcelle (D) joined Republicans in supporting the bill. It went to the House floor where  members voted 66-23 in favor of the bill. It is now pending in the Senate Committee on Judiciary B. 

Rep. McCormick said passage of the bill through the House was a huge victory for religious liberty. But it makes it through the process, Gov. Edwards is likely to veto it.

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