US Church Defies Shutdown Order, Rogue Pastor Says He Was Threatened with Military Force


A Louisiana pastor welcomed hundreds of people into his Tuesday night church service one day after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards banned groups of 50 people or more from gathering.

Across the state, churches canceled services until further notice to control the spread of COVID-19, but Rev. Tony Spell was not concerned for his congregation at Life Tabernacle Church.

“It’s not a concern,” he said, according to 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.”

The pastor said the police had shown up after the service and told him that the National Guard would break up any future gatherings over 50 people.

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Louisiana National Guard Col. Ed Bush told the news outlet Wednesday that they had received no such orders.

“The National Guard has not been tasked with enforcing any of the curfew, social distancing or meeting requirements as set by the governor,” Bush said.

“Our focus right now is completely with helping state agencies with preparedness and medical readiness.”

Spell said he had an even larger crowd at his service on Sunday, two days after Edwards banned gatherings of 250 people or more.

“I had 1,170 in attendance Sunday,” he said. “We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five-parish area.”

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said people who violate the governor’s directions could face prosecution but will first be asked to voluntarily comply.

“This is a very delicate issue and balance between emergency powers, the First Amendment, and religious rights and freedom,” Moore said.

“We respect the people’s right to meet and practice their religion, but during these dangerous times, some temporary restrictions will prevail.”

Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins wrote a letter to Edwards last week saying it was unconstitutional to effectively cancel church services, Fox News reported.

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

“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.”

Many other churches have made the decision to have services online, and even more made the decision after the White House advised people to not gather in groups of more than 10.

However, members of Spell’s congregation say they will continue to attend their services.

“I’m not missing my church because of no coronavirus,” Lillian Alexander told WAFB.

“I love the Lord and he’s going to take care of us.”

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith