Protests have mounted against a Louisiana pastor who continues to defy public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic by repeatedly holding large church services.
Rev. Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana was arrested and issued with multiple misdemeanor charges Tuesday for holding services despite Governor John Bel Edwards issuing orders requiring residents to stay home and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people. Services at the church resumed the same evening Spell was arrested.
Spell has insisted that parishioners who attend the services, which have exceeded 1,000 people, are not in danger because the virus is “politically motivated.” Protesters have recently started to appear outside the church, located in a suburb of Baton Rouge.
One protester at the Tuesday night service held a sign that read “God don’t like stupid,” while another spoke out against the large gatherings by aiming a bullhorn at parishioners, according to The Associated Press.
Local comedian Lance Woolie, who uses the name “Lance Knippers,” streamed a live protest of the church to Facebook on Sunday morning. The video shows Woolie wearing a makeshift hazmat suit and wielding a bullhorn while reciting Bible passages and referring to the church as a “cult.”
“You have doctors telling you to stay home and slow the spread, and you have a pastor that’s like, ‘Let’s get together and celebrate,'” Woolie told The Livingston Parish News. “I understand the role of the church, but I wanted to make an example.”
In a Wednesday Facebook post, the pastor said he would be holding a press conference to address the situation on Thursday. The briefing is set to include a message of support from former Alabama judge Roy Moore, who lost two campaigns for a U.S. Senate seat after news of his alleged sexual assaults of underage teens emerged.
Spell has claimed that he is being persecuted for being a Christian, insisting that his religious rights should take precedence over concerns about transmitting a potentially deadly disease.
“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 WAFB on March 17.
The pastor also claimed that the “anointed handkerchiefs” he offers at the church have the power to heal multiple diseases, suggesting that the handkerchiefs could also be effective against COVID-19.
“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,” said Spell.
Newsweek reached out the Life Tabernacle Church for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.