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LOUISIANA (LifeSiteNews) – Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards violated Pastor Tony Spell’s freedom of religion by instituting COVID-19 restrictions that forbade him from holding in-person church services, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled May 13.

The Shreveport Times reports that Spell defied Edwards’ March 2020 limitation of in-person gatherings to ten people, for which he was subjected to criminal charges. While lower courts ruled against Spell, the state’s highest court determined that “certain provisions of two executive orders, as applied to defendant, violate his fundamental right to exercise religion, do not survive strict scrutiny, and are thus unconstitutional.”

Of particular significance to the judge’s decision were the exemptions for certain secular activities. Justice William Crain wrote there was no evidence that “gatherings in secular venues like office buildings and airports created less risk of virus transmission than such interactions at gatherings in a church building.” In his dissent, Chief Justice John Weimer claimed churches could have simply held outdoor or online services.

“Once again, this governor’s overreach has been defeated in court,” said Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. “While it is unfortunate that it took almost two years, I am appreciative that John Bel’s unconstitutional actions have been halted by the court. This is a victory for the separation of powers and our free exercise clause. What’s more: it is a great highlight of John Bel’s hypocrisy — punishing prayer service but not food service at a mall.”

An Edwards spokesperson said the governor “disagrees” with the ruling but is “accepting of it,” and claimed he “has always recognized the importance of places of worship during COVID.”

Last December, Edwards also declared his intentions to add COVID-19 vaccination to the state public school immunization schedule for any age groups for which they have been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, prompting Landry and state Rep. Raymond Crews to file a lawsuit arguing that the Louisiana Constitution does not allow the governor to make such decisions unilaterally, or the state legislature to delegate to him the power to do so.