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Pastor brings 1,000 people to Sunday service, defying state’s coronavirus order

Pastor Tony Spell preaches at his Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Pastor Tony Spell preaches at his Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Google Maps

A Louisiana pastor defied a coronavirus state-order against large gatherings, claiming 1,000 people showed up at his recent Sunday church service.

On Sunday, Pastor Tony Spell said his Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge bussed people from five parishes in for the service, assembling the 1,000-person gathering despite orders to not hold gatherings of more than 50 people.

He says he plans to hold another one on Tuesday.

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“If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors,” Spell told CNN this week. “But you can’t say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith.”

Last week, the pastor said he doesn’t believe his congregation is at risk of contracting COVID-19, he told CBS-affiliate WAFB-TV.

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“It’s not a concern,” Spell said last week, of his March 17 service. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

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Spell claimed police showed up at the church after the service, saying the National Guard would break up any future gatherings. This was contradicted by Col. Ed Bush of the Lousiana National Guard told NBC-15 they haven’t “been tasked with enforcing any of the curfew, social distancing or meeting requirements as set by the governor.”

On Sunday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state has had the fastest growth rate of coronavirus cases in the world, per a University of Lousiana Lafayette study.

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Edwards urged that “faith leaders and all faith leaders to heed this directive and not necessarily engage in mass gatherings where this coronavirus can spread,” according to WVLA-TV.

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In a March 16 statement, Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott recommended the closure of all recreation programs, libraries, private schools, daycares, churches and other faith settings, as well as bars and restaurants, except those that offer take out or delivery.

“Based on advice from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, Ontario is responding to the evolving situation by moving forward with new measures to help contain the virus,” the statement said.

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So far, the U.S. has seen more than 65,000 cases of coronavirus, while Canada’s count has reached nearly 4,000.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca

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