A right-wing Louisiana pastor remains defiant after being charged with violating an executive order that bans churches from holding large gatherings. Pastor Mark Anthony Spell showed his defiance by holding a service that was attended by over 1,000 people on Tuesday, CBS News reports.
People leaving the Louisiana church were seen hugging and shaking hands and Spell says he plans to keep the doors open because he doesn’t see the difference between this and keeping Walmart’s doors open. He also said keeping the church open is similar to keeping hospitals open because churches provide “spiritual healing.”
“We are needy people,” he said. “Our souls are lost. We need help, and the church is the salvation center of the soul, the sanctuary where we come together and meet.”
The pastor told CBS News that 1,265 people attended the service and he defended the gathering.
“We have a constitutional right to congregate,” he wrote in an email Monday. “We will continue.”
Spell said his church is disinfected each day and boasted that it’s “cleaner” than Sam’s Club, open gas stations, and Walmart. He declined to comment when asked whether the church was still receiving donations.
More than 2,500 people in Louisiana have contracted coronavirus and 239 residents have died, the Louisiana Health Department reports.
The executive order, directed by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards bans gatherings of more than 10 people, according to East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore. Each violation can result in a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Even so, Spell says he intends to keep violating the order and dismissed the significance of the pandemic.
“We’re still here and still assembling and having church,” he said. Then he was asked why he was ignoring the governor’s order:
“Because the Lord told us to,” he said.
Spell, who’s apparently planning a Tuesday evening service, was also asked whether he was concerned about the pandemic.
“I’m no more concerned than I would be going to Walmart or Home Depot.”
Darren Sibley, the Central Assistant Police Chief, said there are no plans to stop Tuesday night’s service at Spell’s Life Tabernacle Church, but officers will be documenting everything and will forward everything to the district attorney.
“He is doing this for publicity,” Sibley said, regarding Spell. “He is putting the citizens of the community at risk. And he is putting the people in his congregation at risk.”