KEY POINTS

  • A few pastors are acting 'recklessly' 
  • State v. religion argument
  • Livestreaming is acceptable to most

A couple of megachurch pastors are in the news for violating the stay-home orders in their states. A nonprofit group that claims to be dedicated to defending civil rights is challenging an Executive Order in Pennsylvania citing the First Amendment.

The pandemic appears to be hitting the country hardest just as many Americans prepare to celebrate religious holidays. Most will have to remain home during Easter celebrations as well as Ramadan, which begins later this month, and Passover, which began Wednesday evening.

Tony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana, refuses to follow the state's order. "Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend," he reportedly told TMZ.

The pastor was arrested in March and charged with six misdemeanors for violating an EO by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) banning gatherings of more than 10 people. Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran called Spell's decision "reckless and irresponsible."

Spell reportedly held services again on Palm Sunday, with hundreds of parishioners turning out to his church near Baton Rouge. The church website has a 10 am Sunday service scheduled.

Florida megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was also arrested in March for hosting Sunday services at his church, The River at Tampa Bay, and was charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawful assembly and violating public health rules.

Howard-Browne has not indicated that he will reopen the church Easter Sunday. It was closed on Palm Sunday. He will livestream his sermon.

Howard-Browne is also associated with a political wing, the Center for American Liberty, whose political action section Liberty Counsel released a statement by  Howard-Browne on April 2 after his release.

An allied non-profit, Liberty Counsel Action (LAC), floated a conspiracy theroy about the coronavirus on April 6 and urged people to "prayerfully consider financially supporting our work." 

"Whether by accident or design, it is clear that China was working on biological warfare, and it was unleashed on the world." Signed by a "Mat Staver," it appeals for readers to send a fax or forward the message "to like minded friends."

Another non-profit, The Center for American Liberty, sent a letter to the offices of the Pennsylvania attorney general and the governor’s legal counsel on Palm Sunday, requesting an explanation on whether people may attend evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth’s service on Easter in Harrisburg.

Shuttlesworth announced last week that he plans to host an “outdoor Easter blowout service” despite the state’s orders banning large gatherings.

The overwhelming majority of churches in the United States are holding online-only services due to the coronavirus outbreak. A majority of the congregations will celebrate Easter digitally, according to two studies.