Louisiana church defies coronavirus recommendations to hold service for 300

A Louisiana pastor continued with church services as usual Tuesday night despite an order from Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) banning gatherings of more than 50 people amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not a concern,” the Rev. Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish told CBS affiliate WAFB. “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 police officers arrived after his Tuesday night service and told him the National Guard would force any services over the 50-person threshold to disperse.

He said 305 people attended the service and that 1,170 attended Sunday services.

“I’m a person of faith,” Edwards said in his announcement of the ban on large gatherings in a weekend news conference. “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.”

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) has argued applying the ban to religious observances violates the First Amendment.

“I agree that all our constituents and religious leaders should follow the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),” Higgins wrote in a letter to Edwards last week. “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.”