Louisiana pastor charged with violating ban on large gatherings holds church service for hundreds

 

A Louisiana pastor who was arrested last week for holding church services in defiance of a state ban on gatherings of more than 10 people reportedly held them again Sunday, with hundreds of parishioners turning out to his church near Baton Rouge.

An attorney for the pastor, Tony Spell, told Reuters that despite parishioners arriving in 26 buses, everyone but immediate family members maintained a distance of at least six feet.

Spell told reporters that the churchgoers “would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes” and suggested depression and anxiety experienced by people confined to their homes could be “worse than the people who have already contracted this virus and died.”

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The state has recorded 13,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 477 deaths as of Sunday.

Spell was arrested March 31 and charged with six misdemeanors for violating an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Central, La., Police Chief Roger Corcoran said the decision was “reckless and irresponsible.”

Bobbye McInnis, a neighbor of the church, called going ahead with the service “utterly ridiculous,” telling reporters, “They’re just afraid there’s not going to be enough money in the collection plate.”

Edwards issued the stay-at-home order March 22, saying, “People can leave their homes to do essential things like buying groceries or food, pick up medicine or go to work only if their job is essential.” The order applies through April 12 but is subject to extensions.

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

Several states, even those with stay-at-home orders in place, have exempted religious gatherings, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, while California has deemed “faith-based services that are provided through streaming or other technology” to be essential services but not in-person gatherings, the Los Angeles Times reported.