1,000 people to services
"The virus, we believe, is politically motivated," Tony Spell said. "We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says."
A Louisiana pastor is apparently defying the governor's order against gatherings of more than 50 people by hosting over 1,000 churchgoers at a service Sunday and bringing together hundreds at another service Tuesday, according to the pastor and local media. Image: The Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, La. The Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, La.Google Maps
The pastor, Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, said he does not believe his congregation is at risk of getting COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, according to CBS affiliate WAFB.
"Its not a concern," Spell told the outlet. "The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says."
Spell said 1,170 attended his service Sunday, according to WAFB.
"We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five-parish area," he said.
Spell also told the outlet that police showed up at the church after the service Tuesday night and informed him the National Guard would break up any future gatherings that exceed 50 people.
But a National Guard spokesman in Baton Rouge told NBC News on Wednesday it is not involved in the matter and has no role in enforcing social distancing requirements as set by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Spell did not immediately return a request for an interview Wednesday.
NBC News reached out to the Central Police Department and to Edwards' office about the apparent violation of the governor's order but did not immediately hear back.
An online petition calling for Spell to be arrested and prosecuted has more than 4,000 signatures. The petition claims 1,800 people attended Spell's service on Sunday.
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