KEY POINTS

  • The Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge has continued hosting services in spite of gathering limits set by Louisiana Gov. John Edwards and a statewide shelter-in-place order
  • Pastor Tony Spell said he wasn't concerned about COVID-19, believing his congregation was safe from possible exposure, and held a service of over 1,000 people on Sunday
  • A Change.org petition has gathered over 5,000 signatures demanding Spell be arrested and prosecuted for endangering churchhgoers

A Louisiana pastor has defied a state order against gatherings of 50 people or more due to coronavirus by hosting over 1,000 churchgoers at several services.

Tony Spell, the pastor at Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has continued hosting services at the church since the coronavirus order went into effect earlier in March. He hosted on of his largest services since the order with 1,170 people attending and several hundred attended another on Tuesday.

Spell told reporters he doesn’t believe his congregation is at any risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s not a concern,” Spell told reporters. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on March 16 said that gatherings of over 50 people would not be permitted to keep in line with guidelines laid out by the Center for Disease Control. Edwards followed up on Sunday by formally issuing a shelter-in-place order that went into effect at 5 p.m. on Monday.

Life Tabernacle was reportedly hosting churchgoers from the surrounding five parishes that were not holding services and used 27 buses to transport them to and from the church.

Spell continued, saying that local police were reportedly outside the church after the Tuesday service and warned the National Guard would break up any further services larger than 50 people.

However, Louisiana National Guard Colonel Ed Bush said this was not the case.

“The National Guard has not been tasked with enforcing any of the curfew, social distancing or meeting requirements as set by the governor,” Colonel Bush told reporters. “Our focus right now is completely with helping state agencies with preparedness and medical readiness.”

A Change.org petition was made in response to Spell’s services, calling for him to be arrested and prosecuted for endangerment “for the countless lives he will be brutalizing and even ending with his selfishness and ignorance.” The petition has over 5,000 signatures.

Sanitary workers disinfect a church in Beirut, Lebanon Sanitary workers disinfect a church in Beirut, Lebanon Photo: AFP / -