Louisiana pastor charged with misdemeanor for holding services despite coronavirus
© Thinkstock

A Louisiana pastor was charged Tuesday after police said he continued to hold church services despite warnings from public health officials and Gov. John Bel Edwards’s executive order banning gatherings of 50 or more people. 

The Central Police Department said Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, La., was issued a misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the governor’s executive order. 

The statement shared to Facebook alleged that Spell “has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

“Mr. Spell will have his day in court where he will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community,” the statement said. 

“This is not an issue over religious liberty, and it’s not about politics. We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community’s leaders to set a positive example and follow the law,” it continued.

Spell told NBC News on Tuesday that the summonses apply to the six services he has held since March 16, when the governor announced the order. Spell said he hosted approximately 500 worshipers Sunday at a church in Central, a town of approximately 29,000 near Baton Rouge.

The summons is considered an arrest by authorities, according to NBC News. The pastor was fingerprinted at his church Tuesday when it was issued and was cooperative with law enforcement, Assistant Chief of Police Darren Sibley of the Central Police Department confirmed to the outlet. 

"He signed the summons, he gave us his fingerprint, he prayed for us," Sibley said. "It was a very nonconfrontational meeting."

Earlier this month, Spell told a CBS affiliate that he does not believe his congregation is at risk amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says," he said.

Assistant ministers and worshippers at the Louisiana church told news reporters to leave on Sunday, The Associated Press reported. Church officials said cameras were not allowed on their property, and they were directed not to talk to media.

A petition for Spell to be “arrested immediately and charged with 1,800 counts of reckless endangerment," among other demands, has garnered more than 10,000 signatures online. The petition claims that 1,800 people attended the church on Sunday, March 22.

Edwards issued a stay-at-home order on March 22 as the state has continued to be hit with coronavirus cases. Louisiana has confirmed at least 5,237 cases, according to the state’s Office of Public Health.