Updated: Jul 20
FOUNDATION, PASTOR WINS VICTORY FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN FIFTH CIRCUIT
June 14, 2021
Montgomery, AL: The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana must take another look at a vitally important religious freedom case in light of several recent Supreme Court cases which hold that a simple rational basis test is inappropriate for restrictions on church assembly.
Tony Spell, Pastor of Life Tabernacle Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was cited repeatedly by local law enforcement authorities for holding worship services allegedly in violation of executive orders of Governor John Bel Edwards. Pastor Spell retained legal services of the Foundation for Moral Law and its Founder, Chief Justice Roy Moore, as well as local attorney Jeff Wittenbrink.
In January 2021, Federal Judge Brian Jackson ruled that because of the pandemic, the Governor's orders supersede religious liberty rights, (specifically, that the government had a rational basis for its policy of safety which was enough to restrict churches) and further that Pastor Spell's claims were moot because the Governor's orders had been lifted. Pastor Spell and his attorneys appealed Judge Jackson's ruling to the Fifth Circuit.
After oral arguments Monday June 7, the Fifth Circuit Friday June 11 unanimously vacated Judge Jackson's order and remanded the case to him for further consideration. The Per Curiam unpublished opinion noted that Judge Jackson in January had not had the benefit of more recent Supreme Court opinions that required strict scrutiny of the orders of New York Governor Cuomo and California Governor Newsom. Further, the Court left open the possibility of damages for past constitutional violations. The Court therefore directed Judge Jackson to reconsider Pastor Spell's case in light of these new cases.
Pastor Spell praised Judge Moore and the Foundation for standing with him and gave ultimate credit to God: "At Life Tabernacle Church we have always been loyal citizens, but we have always taught that when government forbids what God's Word commands, 'We ought to obey God rather than men.' (Acts 5:29). We will continue to stand for the Truth and give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ."
Judge Moore stated, "This is a great victory not only for Pastor Spell and Life Tabernacle Church, but for all churches in America. The right to assemble and worship God is a fundamental right secured by the United States Constitution and does not fall within the jurisdiction of the state even in a pandemic. Federal judges should stop playing politics with our religious freedom."
Foundation Attorney Talmadge Butts, who argued the case along with Judge Moore and Attorney Wittenbrink, said approvingly, "The Fifth Circuit has now recognized that earlier cases like Jacobson v. Massachusetts must now be viewed with a stricter standard, especially when fundamental rights like religious liberty are at stake."
Attorney Wittenbrink added, "We are thankful that the Fifth Circuit has seen through the procedural barriers and that our case will now be heard on its merits. We will continue to stand with Pastor Spell through all future stages and bring this case to a successful conclusion."
Foundation for Moral Law