Controversial pastor Tony Spell has refused to end his church services despite a Louisiana mandate banning large gatherings

By Ally Mauch
April 21, 2020 11:28 AM
Tony Spell
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty

Police in Central, Louisiana have issued an arrest warrant for controversial pastor Tony Spell on aggravated assault and improper backing charges after he allegedly backed his bus into a protester, PEOPLE confirms.

A spokesman for the department confirmed to PEOPLE that the arrest warrant for Spell, Pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, was issued on Monday for aggravated assault.

Video footage of the alleged incident, which occurred on April 19, shows the bus stopping just short of where a person was standing. Police said the person was protesting Spell’s Life Tabernacle Church, which has recently made headlines due to Spell’s refusal to stop holding services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“At first I thought he [Spell] was just turning around his bus and was going to pull away, but he just kept coming in reverse,” Trey Bennett, the protester, recently told local station WAFB.

“I could see him [Spell] driving the bus. He was honking his horn loudly at me and making gestures suggesting he was yelling while he was driving. It didn’t seem real until it was physically in my face with a bus,” Bennett added.

Spell confirmed that he was the person driving the bus, telling WAFB he wanted to get out and confront the protester but his wife, also on the bus, convinced him not to.

“That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now,” Spell told the outlet. “He shoots people obscene finger gestures and shouts vulgarities.”

“I was pulling in from my bus route, picking up black children who haven’t eaten because of this sinister policy that has closed schools,” the pastor continued. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”

Bennett denied Spell’s claims and said he has been peacefully protesting for the past several weeks in an attempt “to raise awareness so that people will demand that this place gets closed down.”

Tony Spell
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty

Spell has refused to discontinue his church services despite Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’s stay-at-home order, which directs residents to avoid large gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Satan and a virus will not stop us,” Spell told Reuters on April 10 regarding his decision to hold Easter services. “God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid. We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders. We will spread the Gospel.”

In addition to the recent charges, Spell has been given a misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the governor’s mandate, according to a Facebook post from the Central Police Department in late March.

“Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion,” the post reads. “This is not an issue over religious liberty, and it’s not about politics. We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community’s leaders to set a positive example and follow the law.”

The Life Tabernacle Church did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

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