Pastor Holds Service With Over 1,000 Parishioners In Defiance of Large-Gathering Ban

A Louisiana pastor is reportedly ignoring public health warnings intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus by continuing to hold packed church services for over 1,000 people.

Rev. Tony Spell held a crowded service Tuesday night at his Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge, according to WAFB. Although Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has banned gatherings of more than 50 people and President Donald Trump recently suggested groups of no more than 10, Spell believes there is no risk to his congregation because the virus is "politically motivated."

"It's 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," Spell told the outlet. "I had 1,170 in attendance Sunday. We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five-parish area."

Spell also claimed that the Louisiana National Guard showed up to his church after the service and warned that they would use force to shut down further gatherings. However, WAFB said the claim was false, citing a colonel in the National Guard.

The pastor also suggested that his congregants were not at risk from COVID-19 because the church is a "hospital" where "anointed handkerchiefs" have the ability to heal people of multiple diseases.

"Our church is a hospital where the sick can come and get healing," Spell reportedly said during the service. "Cancers are healed here, people are healed of HIV in these services, and we believe that tonight, we're also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness, and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well."

Louisiana pastor Tony Law is reportedly ignoring a ban on gatherings of 50 or more in defiance of health experts who fear an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, in order to hold large church services featuring "anointed handkerchiefs" during the pandemic. Getty

Although it's unclear why Spell believes the virus is political, similar ideas had been promoted by Trump and a number of his allies until very recently. Trump insisted that concerns about the virus were the basis of a "new hoax" created by Democrats determined to hurt him at a rally on February 28.

Newsweek reached out to Life Tabernacle Church for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Religious leaders contradicting the advice of health experts is already believed to have resulted in a large number of infections in South Korea. A church led by a pastor who refused to curtail services in South Korea is thought to be responsible for a majority of cases in the country.

Pastor Lee Man-Hee teaches his followers in the Shincheonji Church of Jesus that being sick is a sin, while encouraging followers to attend packed services regardless of illness. Around 60 percent of the 8,413 cases reported in the country as of Wednesday are believed to be tied to the sect.

At least 46 members of a different Korean church became infected after also being given poor advice about COVID-19. Leaders at the River of Grace Community Church reportedly inserted an unwashed spray bottle filled with saltwater directly into the mouths of congregants who willing lined up to be sprayed in the false belief that the solution would kill the virus.

US, COVID-19, coronavirus, US, map, March 18
This infographic from Statista shows the spread of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the U.S. as of March 18. Statista