(RNS) — Almost as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began, a tug of war developed between federal, state and local policymakers and a small group of sometimes angry Christian pastors bent on holding in-person services. But as stay-at-home restrictions were gradually lifted and the definition of “essential services” expanded, a second wave of church leaders appealed to the First Amendment to challenge bans on gatherings with lawsuits and open defiance. They’ve had help from the Justice Department and, most recently, an order from President Donald Trump deeming churches essential services. Meet the pastors who have refused to close. 

Tony Spell
Life Tabernacle Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Pastor Tony Spell speaks to media after holding an evening service at Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, on March

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