Coronavirus: Louisiana pastor who ignored social distancing charged by authorities

CENTRAL, La. — A Louisiana pastor who flouted guidelines for social distancing to welcome hundreds of worshipers to his church will be charged by the governor’s office, authorities said.

Update 2:40 p.m. EDT March 31: An arrest warrant was issued for the Rev. Tony Spell, who will be charged with six misdemeanor counts of disobeying the powers of the governor, prosecutors said Tuesday. A summons was issued for Spell, the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, by the Central Police Department Tuesday afternoon, WAFB reported.

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“Over the last two weeks I have worked with the Sheriff, State Police the State Fire Marshal, Rev. Tony Perkins and others to address this matter outside of legal action," Center police Chief Roger Corcoran said in a statement. “Mr. Spell made his intentions to continue to violate the law clear. Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion.

“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.”

Original report: A Louisiana pastor who made headlines last week when he ignored social-distancing efforts to welcome hundreds of worshipers to his church again flouted state guidelines Sunday, area news outlets are reporting.

>> Coronavirus: Louisiana pastor defies social-distancing efforts, welcomes hundreds to church service

According to WVLA-TV, the Rev. Tony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, said more than 1,800 people came to the church Sunday for an outdoor service. More than 300 worshiped there March 17 and 1,100 on March 15, he said in earlier interviews.

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Spell said the church used 26 buses to bring members to Sunday’s service, which came about a week after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a state order prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to WAFB. On Monday evening, a stay-at-home order also went into effect for the entire state, the news station reported.

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Spell, who previously claimed that concerns about the virus are “politically motivated,” told WVLA that he will depend on God to heal any church members who fall sick.

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“When the paramedics can’t get there, when the law enforcement can’t get there, the Holy Ghost can get there,” he said, according to WVLA. “It will make a difference in someone’s life.”

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In response to news of the service, Edwards told WVLA that he “would urge that faith leaders ... heed” the stay-at home order.

So far, the virus has killed at least 16,500 people worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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