- Associated Press
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

CENTRAL, Louisiana — Declaring that the coronavirus is “politically motivated,” a Louisiana pastor held a church service with hundreds of people in violation of the state’s public health ban on gatherings of more than 50. Police told him that if tried it again, the National Guard would shut him down.

The Rev. Tony Spell, who also claims his services cure cancer and HIV, said no “dictator law” should keep people from worshipping God.


The vast majority of people recover from the highly contagious virus in weeks, but the elderly and infirm can get pneumonia and other illnesses that can lead to death. Louisiana reported its sixth death from the coronavirus Wednesday, with 257 reported cases statewide.

Despite this, Spell said he told 305 people attending his Tuesday night sermon at Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central, near Baton Rouge, that the virus is nothing to be concerned about.

WAFB-TV quoted Spell as saying that police told him the National Guard will be enforcing Louisiana’s ban on gatherings with more than 50 people. However, a guard spokesman told the TV station that was not the case.

“The National Guard has not been tasked with enforcing any of the curfew, social distancing or meeting requirements as set by the governor,” Colonel Ed Bush said.

Spell said his church will be distributing “anointed handkerchiefs” to attendees to provide them with “healing virtues.”

“The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” Spell told WAFB. “We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

Spell said the church had 1,170 attendees on Sunday, with 27 buses picking up people across five Louisiana parishes.

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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