Louisiana pastor says he has 1,000 people at services, defying state coronavirus orders

Joshua Bote, USA TODAY

A Louisiana pastor continues to defy the state’s orders prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people by holding church services, the latest of which he claimed had over 1,000 attendees.

The Rev. Tony Spell, who claims that congregants at Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central City, about 15 miles northeast of Baton Rouge, have been cured of cancer and HIV, said that coronavirus is “politically motivated.”

Spell claims that around 1,000 churchgoers, who the church has bused in from five different parishes in Louisiana, have attended his church every Sunday despite state recommendations against mass gatherings. Additional services on Tuesday, he added, attract an additional few hundred churchgoers.

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

Earlier this month, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a ban against gatherings of over 50 people, which he then expanded by issuing a statewide stay-at-home order for nonessential workers and businesses.

He called the state’s case count, 1,795 cases and 65 deaths as of Wednesday,  “sobering” and said that the state’s trajectory has not changed since its first cases.

A recorded livestream of the church’s hourlong services on Sunday shows congregants breaking social distancing guidelines sitting and singing close together. 

President Donald Trump issued guidelines earlier this month advising against groups of 10 or more people, but has since considered lifting the social distancing limits by Easter.

Contributing: The Associated Press; Greg Hilburn, Monroe News-Star. Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Louisiana pastor has services of 1000, defies state order