The media has entirely failed to note a very recent development in a criminal case which has grave implications for all American citizens, because it directly relates to the freedoms granted to us under our Constitution and laws. The matter at hand is about nothing less than the tyranny of unbridled governmental power, which, by the way, is precisely why the American Revolution was fought.
In a matter of such significance, the on-going media silence is, as the saying goes, deafening. Because this is the very same media which so gleefully reported the citation of Pastor Tony Spell when he was charged with no less than six counts of “Violation of Emergency Proclamation” on March 31, 2020. His crime? He dared to defy His Imperial Excellency Governor John Bel Edwards by holding religious services in his church, in violation of the Governor’s emergency proclamations.
Even worse, Pastor Spell was vocal in his defiance, which was the real reason that he was cited and ordered to appear before the 19th Judicial District Court as a defendant in a criminal case. In fact, we now know that he was also followed by law enforcement officers and an extended camera surveillance was conducted of the church grounds.
Throughout the last two years, the media has been shameless in its denunciation of Pastor Spell and his congregation. The politically correct view, indeed the only view presented, was that the pastor and his congregation were endangering the public by being in close quarters during the pandemic.
It should be noted that during the same time that Pastor Spell was conducting his services and being cited for his troubles, various business enterprises were operating as usual. The reason? Gov. Edwards had designated them as providers of “essential services.” Such businesses included the likes of CVS, Albertsons, Walmart, and, of course abortion clinics throughout the state, but not churches or synagogues.
In fact, the Governor’s proclamation had placed very strict limits on attendance at religious services- a maximum of fifty people in the church at one time, later reduced to the absurd number of ten congregants! This was strict enough to make church attendance all but impossible, as the Governor must have been well aware. Apparently, Gov. Edwards, unlike the governors of many other states, did not feel that religious services were essential enough to make attendance a practical possibility.
Now I for one thought at the time that was a rather odd decision on the Governor’s part. Survey after national survey confirmed that Louisianians tended to be religious more often than the average American, and the Governor himself claimed to be a man of faith. It seemed to me that many folks just might be seeking comfort and divine guidance during a pandemic, and that they should be allowed to attend the services of their choosing.
Be that as it may, the criminal case against Pastor Spell proceeded apace. His attorney, Jeff Wittenbank, filed a motion to quash the charges, which motion was denied by the trial court. A writ (it’s like an appeal) was taken to the appeals court, which also denied the motion. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted the writ and agreed to review the matter.
Then a very, very strange thing happened on January 18th: Several attorneys acting at the Governor’s behest attempted to intervene in the criminal proceeding against Pastor Spell. Moreover, and they did so by signing the pleadings as representatives of Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office!
Yes, that’s correct- several members of a well known law firm electronically signed off on legal documents which were then filed with the Clerk of the Louisiana Supreme Court. At the time they did this, they signed as “Special Assistant Attorneys General,” and even added the Attorney General’s name to the signature block. Yet they knew full well that their action had not been authorized by Attorney General Jeff Landry and was therefore improper and possibly even unethical.
Now the Governor sought to become involved in the criminal case against Tony Spell because he was concerned that his emergency proclamations were at risk of being ruled unconstitutional during the course of this proceeding. Such a ruling would have been highly embarrassing and politically damaging to the Governor.
But when the Governor’s legal minions recognized the impropriety of their actions, they quickly filed a motion to withdraw the offending pleading. The Governor then rounded up a second group of attorneys willing to file essentially the same pleading under a different name, so that he could remain involved in the criminal case against Pastor Spell.
In Louisiana, we have what is called the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. It exists to investigate unethical actions by licensed attorneys, and this office should begin an investigation into this entire matter without delay.
As for the Governor himself, he has improperly become involved in a criminal case against the pastor of a church. Now imagine how you would feel if the full weight of the most powerful government official in the state was brought down on your head over a matter of religious principle in which you believed deeply. And what if that government official’s power included a major say in the bills to be passed and the budgets and projects to be funded over the next two legislative sessions, matters which affected every other state official? You would already feel like you were in a pretty serious predicament, right?
But how would you feel if you had also been followed, videotaped on camera, then warned and threatened by police officers, fire marshals, even the Governor himself, and ultimately charged six times for violating not a real law, but an emergency proclamation? Do you now see why this case is about so much more than a routine criminal matter?
John Bel Edwards would like nothing better than to be the lawmaker, the prosecutor, and the judge in the Tony Spell case, but this is tyranny in its starkest form and it cannot be allowed to stand. Let us hope that the Louisiana Supreme Court will put a quick end to the Governor’s involvement in this case, and the Governor will be held to account for any illegal or unethical acts which he committed along the way.
Stay tuned for further developments!
LOUIS GURVICH, Chairman
Republican Party of Louisiana