La. governor says he has not put pressure on officials to stop gatherings at Central church; DA says matter still under investigation

DA, mayor ask Central pastor to please stop holding services amid governor's stay-at-home order

CENTRAL, La. (WAFB) - So many of WAFB’s viewers keep asking how that pastor in Central continues to get away with what plenty have called a “major threat to our health.”

The honest answer we found out Monday, March 30 is that Governor John Bel Edwards and local authorities are still letting him.

Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle advertises big services. You see them, call WAFB and call authorities, and they let it happen time after time. Officials have thus far refused to do more than ask him not to do it.

Just Sunday, more than 1,000 people showed up to the service; some even got on a bus from other parishes to attend.

At Monday’s (March 30) news conference, WAFB wanted to know why the governor isn’t being more strict about his executive order limiting large gatherings.

“So we’re asking everyone, including our faith leaders and Pastor Spell, to discontinue those services,” said Gov. Edwards during the press conference.

Gov. Edwards has continuously asked people like Spell to comply with his executive order and stop worshiping inside the walls of the church for now, but that just simply isn’t working.

But has he pressured Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome of East Baton Rouge Parish, or the EBR Sheriff’s Office, or even the Central Police Department to break up the gatherings? The answer is no.

“I have not put pressure on any officials to enforce that in any particular situation, whether it’s in Baton Rouge or elsewhere, but I do implore those folks to comply,” said Gov. Edwards.

Shauna Sanford with the governor’s office told WAFB it’s up to local officials to enforce the governor’s executive order.

"Local law enforcement has the authority to deal with any complaints regarding crowd control," said Sanford.

And she says that Louisiana State Police have also had conversations with the Pastor to stop.

Life Tabernacle even buses hundreds of people from all over the state to come to worship.

“Governor Edwards needs to do what is in his power and safe to do, to enforce his wise order to limit public gatherings, including worship services to under 50 people, preferably under ten people,” said Rev. Nathan Empsall with the organization, Faithful America.

Spell’s acts have caught the attention of Faithful America, the largest online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice.

They have more than 5,500 members that have signed a petition, calling for all pastors across the country to suspend worship services in-person.

“The best way to worship a savior who healed the sick right now is to do so from home. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, and we can’t love them if we’re giving them coronavirus,” said Rev. Empsall.

Just on Monday, the New Orleans Police Department arrested a man they say organized a second line that occurred Saturday in Gert Town. NOPD broke up the second line when people started posting about it on social media.

Central Mayor David Barrow has released a new statement in regards to Pastor Spell who continues to hold services despite Governor John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home order.

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On Monday, March 30, Mayor Barrow released the following statement about the issue:

“Our police chief is working with parish and state officials to resolve this unfortunate situation in a peaceful manner as soon as possible. In the meantime, both myself and Chief Corcoran have spoken face-to-face with Pastor Spell and asked him to please stop holding large assemblies and use alternate methods to preach to his congregation as other churches are doing. Several other elected and faith-based persons have done the same. We ask that he comply for the safety of his congregation and the general public.“

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore says he has also asked Pastor Spell to stop holding these large gatherings:

“I have had many discussions with the chief and others regarding this matter. Many attempts have been made to encourage this church and its good members to adhere to the governor’s very reasonable request. All attempts to persuade compliance have been futile. This is disappointing given the pain, suffering, and stress of all kinds that this real pandemic has caused. While all appreciate this church’s desire to hold regular service during these trying times, there are other temporary methods to deliver their valuable message during these unique times, especially given the talented pastors of this church. Again, we urge this church and its members to do what all other churches in our area, state, and nation have done. Follow the governor’s reasonable, safe orders. The governor’s orders have the full effect of law and violations of such orders are subject to criminal penalties.”

Moore says the matter is still under investigation.

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