Another pastor charged with violating a stay-at-home order by holding services

This morning Jazz wrote about the pastor of a church in Tampa, Florida who was arrested because he has continued to hold church services despite a stay-at-home order. NBC News is reporting that another pastor in Louisiana has been given six summonses, which are equivalent to an arrest, for six separate meetings his church has held in violation of the state’s stay-at-home order:

The pastor, Mark Anthony Spell, who goes by Tony, of Life Tabernacle Church, told NBC News in a brief phone interview Tuesday afternoon that police had given him the summonses for the six services he has held since March 16, when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced an order against gatherings of more than 50 people.

Spell said he hosted about 500 worshippers at a service Sunday at the church in Central, a city of nearly 29,000 near Baton Rouge…

Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said he worked with the sheriff, State Police, State Fire Marshal and others to address the matter “outside of legal action.”

“Mr. Spell made his intentions to continue to violate the law clear,” Corcoran said. “Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion.”

The delivery of the six summonses was not an ugly scene. Two police officers entered the church and met the pastor who greeted them in a suit. He signed the documents and then asked to pray for the deputies, who he said were doing their jobs. But two weeks ago, the pastor said he wasn’t concerned about the virus and suggested the concern about it was politically motivated:

Tuesday’s service was held at Life Tabernacle Church in the City of Central, located in East Baton Rouge Parish. Rev. Spell says he does not believe his congregation is at risk of getting COVID-19.

“It’s not a concern,” Spell said of the virus. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

I’m not sure what Spell meant by that, but if he’s concerned this is a plot by a Democratic governor, why wouldn’t he at least listen to Trump who, along with VP Pence, has been pushing social distancing on a daily basis for the past two weeks?

It’s worth noting that in the case Jazz wrote about earlier the church is claiming that it maintained social distancing measures during the services. I don’t know if that’s true but they are saying they were being careful. It sounds as if that’s not at all the case with this church in Baton Rouge which has had gatherings of over 1,000 people without social distancing efforts.

The police are doing the right thing in my view. Of course the only opinion that will really matter will be that of the judge that eventually decides whether the pastor had a right to ignore the governor’s stay-at-home order. But as I see it there’s no indication that the government’s goal here is to a) silence him or b) shut down his church for good. And that should matter because even if a court eventually decides he had a right to do this, that doesn’t make it wise. It would be much wiser for this pastor to recognize this is a real and immediate threat and briefly shut down or live stream his services to protect people’s health.

Here’s the police press conference about the situation: