Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Central, La., 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 Spell 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.”
“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 summons, which is considered an arrest by authorities, apply to the six services he has held since March 16, when the governor announced the order. He 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.
The pastor said he hosted approximately 500 worshipers Sunday at a church in Central, a town of approximately 29,000 near Baton Rouge.
“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 said 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.
Despite being accused of the misdemeanor offenses, which carry a maximum punishment of $500 and up to six months in parish jail, Spell said he plans to continue holding services, including on Tuesday night, reports The Advocate.
“This is an attack on religion. This an attack on our constitutional rights. We have a constitutional right to assemble and to gather and there are no laws that I am breaking.” he said, as his wife, Shaye, hugged him inside the church’s main worship area.
When asked what he would do if Spell held another service, Corcoran said, “We’re going to take it as we see it.”