Hundreds of churchgoers flout stay-at-home orders in Louisiana

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Congregants arrive at the Life Tabernacle Church in Central, La., Sunday, March 29, 2020. Pastor Tony Spell has defied a shelter-in-place order by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, due to the new coronavirus pandemic, and continues to hold church services with hundreds of congregants. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A pastor who defied the governor of Louisiana’s ban on large gatherings is still holding services, and his church attracted hundreds of worshippers on March. 29

Neighbors complained and Gov. John Bel Edwards once again warned that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with new coronavirus cases.

Approximately 500 people of all ages, black and white, filed inside the mustard-yellow and beige Life Tabernacle church in Central, a city of nearly 29,000 near Baton Rouge.

Clergy and congregants outside the front door and in the parking lot of Life Tabernacle asked reporters to leave, saying cameras would not be allowed on the property and they had been told not to talk to the news media.

Across the street, Paul Quinn and other neighbors took pains to stay 6 feet apart from each other and voiced opposition to the services being held.

“Other congregations are using the internet, Skype, and other safe ways to congregate. Why can’t they? What makes them so special?” Quinn asked. “I wish state police would come out and do something. … If they get out of church and go to the grocery store, it’s a serious health hazard.”

On Sunday in the church’s parking lot, Timothy Spell, father of Pastor Tony Spell, said Life Tabernacle has a right to gather, is not forcing anyone to atten, is not breaking any laws and will continue to hold services at the church.

More than 3,500 Louisiana residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and more than 150 have died, according to state figures released Sunday. Deaths included that of the first federal prison inmate, a man with “serious preexisting conditions” who was being held in Oakdale, Louisiana, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said Saturday.

The virus has killed seven of more than 160 people diagnosed in East Baton Rouge Parish, where the church is located, according to state figures.

People who violate the ban are being selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. They “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread,” he said.

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