A Louisiana pastor intends to keep hosting more than 1,000 churchgoers at both a Sunday service and a following Tuesday service in Baton Rouge, La., NBC News affiliate WAFB reports.
Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church reportedly said he does not believe his congregation is at risk for contracting COVID-19, contrary to reports documenting Louisiana’s high rate of infection.
“It’s not a concern,” Spell told NBC/WAFB 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.”
Spell said 1,170 churchgoers attended his service this past Sunday, reports WAFB.
READ MORE OF OUR BREAKING NEWS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS
Quoted in Christianity Today, Spell reportedly told his congregation that “This is an extreme test brought on us by the spirit of antichrist and the mystery of lawlessness. What good is the church in an hour of peril if the church craters and caves into the fears and the spirits of torment in our society?”
Due to Spell’s public flouting of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edward’s order to temporarily ban gatherings with more than 50 people in attendance, police were reportedly called to the church this Tuesday.
Spell reportedly said that the police threatened that any future gatherings that exceed 50 individuals would be broken up by the National Guard. But Louisiana National Guard Col. Ed Bush refutes this.
“The National Guard has not been tasked with enforcing any of the curfew, social distancing or meeting requirements as set by the governor,” he told the press. The focus of the state National Guard, Bush clarified, is to support state agencies with emergency medical readiness.
Louisiana has recorded 37 deaths due to complications related to a coronavirus infection, according to Johns Hopkins CSSE data. This makes it the state with the third highest mortality count, behind New York and Washington.
Currently, a petition exists on behalf of “The People of Greater Baton Rouge” that calls for the arrest and prosecution of Spell.
SEE MORE ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IN THE US