Pastor defies Governor’s ban, church may face National Guard shutdown

A Baton Rouge area pastor is in a standoff with the State of Louisiana and has defied the governor’s order banning gatherings of 50 or more people, even church services. Tuesday night, the pastor held a worship that had several hundred people that drew the attention of state law officials.

When Rev. Tony Spell, of the Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central Louisiana, showed up for his congregation’s Tuesday night service, the police showed up, too. The pastor was warned that if his congregation defied the governor’s order that the National Guard would break up any future services with more than 50 people gathered. There were 305 who attended the Tuesday night service. Rev. Spell says he does not believe his congregation is at risk of getting COVID-19.

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

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore says those violating the governor’s proclamation could face prosecution as a last resort. Reverend Spell is not concerned with that and boasted he had an even larger crowd this past weekend, days after the governor’s proclamation was issued.

“I had 1,170 in attendance Sunday,” Spell said. “We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five parish area,” he said.

Spell says the people who attended Sunday were in various parts of the church. However, he says a large portion of them were gathered in the main worship area of the church that day.

Gov. Edwards addressed the ban on large gatherings at bars, restaurants, churches, and other places during a news conference Saturday, March 14.

“I’m a person of faith,” the governor said. “I happen to believe very much in the awesome power of prayer. I also believe in science, and the scientists at the CDC say that the measures we are taking will minimize the spread.”

U.S. Congressman Clay Higgins, a Republican from Louisiana, sent a letter to the governor last week saying he believes the limit on the size of church gatherings is unconstitutional.

“I agree that all our constituents and religious leaders should follow the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),” Higgins wrote. “However, the decision to gather should be the choice of the individual or institution and not a mandate by any government entity. The state has no authority to enforce this proclamation nor any ban on worship,” the Congressman said.

Moore, when asked about the Tuesday night service at Life Tabernacle, said all people and groups, including churches, should follow the rules.