Louisiana authorities are cracking down on an evangelical pastor who drew hundreds to his worship services this week, openly flouting the governor’s ban on large public gatherings.
Rev. Tony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in the small city of Central, faces six misdemeanor counts for refusing to abide by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ orders during the coronavirus pandemic, the Central Police Department said Tuesday in a statement on its Facebook page.
Prosecutors said Spell, a Pentecostal preacher, has held at least six gatherings that exceeded the 10-person limit set by the Democratic governor, WAFB reports. Each count carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine, per the Associated Press.
Life Tabernacle Church, which is located in a suburb of Baton Rouge, has used its fleet of buses to bring hundreds of congregants from around the region to attend services throughout the week, according to the Los Angeles Times. Over 1,200 people allegedly attended morning services this past Sunday.
Central police chief Roger Corcoran said in his Tuesday statement that he worked with state authorities and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, an evangelical ally of President Donald Trump, over the past two weeks to try to “address this matter outside of legal action.” But Spell has made it clear that he intends to continue to violate the law, Corcoran said.
“Mr. Spell will have his day in court where he will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community,” the chief said. “This is not an issue over religious liberty, and it’s not about politics. We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community’s leaders to set a positive example and follow the law.”
For his part, Spell claims that he is being persecuted for his faith.
On Tuesday, the pastor shared a video recording made by his father, Rev. Timothy Spell, on Facebook. The video shows Corcoran and another officer walking down the church’s nave to issue the misdemeanor summons. Standing near the altar in a suit, Tony Spell prays for the officers, the governor and the country.
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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Carol Kuruvilla and first published at Huffpo
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