Louisiana pastor plans to hold service after being accused of backing up bus toward protester
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A Louisiana pastor says he plans to hold a church service on Tuesday evening after being released from prison following allegations that he backed up a bus toward a man who was protesting outside the church over the weekend.

Tony Spell, who has reportedly been released on bond, thanked members of his church community for their support. The pastor was released on Tuesday around noon local time, according to a local CBS affiliate.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights. My rights to have church and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ are endowed to me by my creator, not my district attorney, not my chief of police, and not my governor, not my president and not my department of justice,” Spell told the outlet.

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“My inalienable rights are given to me by God and those rights are my rights to assemble and have church. I cannot give up those rights,” he added. 

According to the local station, Spell was taken into custody at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison earlier on Tuesday after police in Central, La., issued a warrant for his arrest on Monday, accusing him of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The warrant stemmed from an incident that occurred outside the Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge on Sunday, police told The Hill.

Police say footage of the incident that has been making the rounds online shows Spell backing up a church bus along a stretch of road toward a man that had been protesting outside his church.

The protester, identified by CBS affiliate WAFB as Trey Bennett, told the station that he at first thought Spell “was just turning around his bus and was going to pull away, but he just kept coming in reverse.” 

“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,” he continued. 

According to local media, Bennett had been urging people not to attend in-person services at the pastor’s church due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Ahead of his arrest on Tuesday, Spell confirmed to WAFB that he had been the person driving the bus and that he wanted to confront the protester at one point before his wife advised him against doing so. 

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

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“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,” he continued. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”

However, Bennett has pushed back on Spell’s claims, telling WAFB that his protests have been peaceful.

“I just stand there with a sign. I don’t say anything to anybody,” Bennett said.

The pastor recently also drew national attention for refusing to cease holding in-person services temporarily amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite a stay-at-home order issued by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards's (D) that directed residents to avoid large gatherings.

At the time, he was given a misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the mandate.