NEW ORLEANS – A lawsuit brought by a Louisiana pastor against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ past COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings was rejected for a second time Wednesday by a federal judge.
U.S. district judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge ruled that the suit by Tony Spell seeking to block the restrictions was moot since the restrictions were lifted long ago. Jackson denied Spell’s request to receive damages from the state officials.
Spell garnered national attention in March 2020 when he began to flout the state’s public health order at a time when much of the country was in lockdown over the emergence of COVID-19. Although Louisiana was particularly hard hit at the time of Spell’s remarks, hundreds turned out to hear Spell say that the virus was not something to worry about.
Jackson rejected the suit in November 2020.. A panel from the 5th U.S. in July rejected the lawsuit. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the judge should look at the case again in light of three recent Supreme Court opinions blocking some restrictions on indoor worship in New York and California. The panel stressed that the case was not being decided on its merits.
Jackson dismissed the lawsuit after reexamination of the case.
“The plaintiffs’ claim for damages is ineffective because there isn’t now, nor ever has been, a clearly established’ right unrestricted to religious assembly. At all relevant times, defendants reasonably believed they were acting within constitutional limits set forth by the Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit, Jackson wrote.
Spell is also fighting against state charges for violations of pandemic related gathering limits.