The worldwide viral outbreak continues to drive a wedge between people, with a Louisiana pastor now being targeted by an online petition calling for his arrest.
The crime? Continuing to hold church services in defiance of his state governor’s ban on gatherings to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Rev. Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge led 1,825 congregants in worship on March 22 and again on March 24, according to MailOnline.
The gatherings were held despite Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order against assemblies of more than 50 people. The number infected in the state rose to more than 1,300 yesterday, including 46 deaths. Louisiana has the fastest growth rate for cases in the world and Democratic Gov. Edwards warned just days ago the state could “be the next Italy.”
Rev. Spell, who has called the virus politically motivated, told CNN: ‘If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors. But you can’t say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith.’
Speaking about the virus last week, Spell told WAFB: “[Coronavirus] is not a concern. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”
He spoke of sending buses to five parishes on Sunday to collect people for the service, before a mass gathering in the church’s main building. He also pledged to carry on regardless. “We want to bring some peace, we want to bring some sanctity to this madness that’s going on in our society,” he said.
“I encourage other religious leaders and churches such as us, do not let fear of any government official, any dictator law prevent you from worshipping God which our first amendment states you are not allowed to do in any form.”