The pastor of the Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was arrested last week for holding church services in defiance of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people reportedly held them again today, telling hundreds of worshipers they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Pastor Tony Spell reportedly sent 26 buses to pick up hundreds of worshippers, about half of them black and half white.
An attorney for Spell told Reuters that 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.”
The state has recorded more than 13,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 477 deaths as of Sunday.
Spell was arrested on March 31 and charged with six misdemeanors for violating an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The stay-at-home order, signed by Edwards on March 22, said: “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 possible extensions.
Central, La., Police Chief Roger Corcoran called Spell’s decision to hold church services amid a deadly pandemic “reckless and irresponsible.”
Bobbye McInnis, a neighbor of the Life Tabernacle Church, called his decision to go ahead with the service “utterly ridiculous,” telling reporters “They’re just afraid there’s not going to be enough money in the collection plate.”
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.