Despite his church being located in one of the worst-affected states in America, Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has continued to disregard public health advice and holding in-person worship services. On Sunday, it was no different. Despite being arrested last week for violating the state's stay-at-home order, Spell once again flung open the doors to his building and bussed in hundreds of congregants for Sunday service.
“They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters, adding that the depression and anxiety caused by staying at home could be “worse" than contacting the and dying from the virus itself.
Lawyers representing the church insisted that they adhered to guidelines on social distancing. In footage taken by reporters, church ushers could be seen screening attendees with infrared thermometers. "We have people use hand sanitizer often. We have refrained from handshaking and hugging until after this pandemic is over, and we're maintaining six feet" said church lawyer, Joe Long.
Despite it being instituted for the health of Louisiana’s citizens, Long believes that the stay-at-home order issued by Governor John Bel Edwards is illegal and violates the constitution.
"We don't believe that the governor's order is legal because both the federal and state constitution protect our right of free exercise and our right to peacefully assemble for that purpose," he said.
Long admitted that despite the lack of reported cases among church members, he said he "expect some of the congregation will get it just like the rest of the country."
"I mean, we don't have an invisible shield that protects us."
That was a far cry from the attitude expressed by many members, who believe Jesus will grant them immunity from the illness.
"All you gotta do is trust the lord, I mean... people in the Bible were healed," one member said.
"I won't get the virus because Jesus says I won't," another added. "I've got God inside of me, I have nothing to worry about."
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself," pastor Spell added following the service. "We had an emotional time… water baptisms and a lot of people saved today."
In California, a pastor who intended to run Sunday services at the weekend was met at the church doors by police officers, who reminded him of the public orders that were in place. Pastor Jon Duncan, who rents space from Bethel Open Bible Church in Lodi, California for his "Cross Culture Christian Center" church, was locked out of the building after police posted a notice on the doors to say that his activities were violating the law.
“We understand people’s desire to practice their faith,” Lodi Police Lt. Michael Manetti told the LA Times. “But at church, generally people are closer to one another … shaking hands and singing.
“It’s for everyone’s welfare,” Manetti added. “We have to protect the public.”
The state of Louisiana currently has over 13,000 confirmed cases and has recorded almost 500 deaths. It is just behind California, which has just over 15,000 cases, and 350 deaths.
New York remains the worst-affected US state by a considerable amount. It has logged over 120,000 cases and 4,100 deaths