CENTRAL, La. (WAFB) - The Louisiana National Guard says it has not been tasked with breaking up large gatherings in the state, including at churches.
The statement comes on the heels of a pastor of a Louisiana church defying government orders by welcoming in hundreds of people into his church service Tuesday evening (March 17).
The gathering directly defied an order by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards that bans groups larger than 50 from gathering at any one time, including in churches. President Donald Trump has recommended no groups larger than 10.
The pastor, Rev. Tony Spell, says police showed up at the church after the service telling him the National Guard would break up any future gatherings that exceed 50 people.
However, Louisiana National Guard Colonel Ed Bush said Wednesday that is not accurate.
“The National Guard has not been tasked with enforcing any of the curfew, social distancing or meeting requirements as set by the governor,” Colonel Bush said. “Our focus right now is completely with helping state agencies with preparedness and medical readiness,” Bush added.
Numerous churches across the state have canceled services until further notice because of the governor’s proclamation, which he says aims to control the spread of the virus.
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.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore says those violating the governor’s proclamation could face prosecution as a last resort. Reverend Spell is not concerned with that and boasted he had an even larger crowd this past weekend, days after the governor’s proclamation was issued.
“I had 1,170 in attendance Sunday,” Spell said. “We have 27 buses on Sundays picking up people in a five-parish area."
Spell says the more than 1,000 people who attended Sunday were in various parts of the church. However, he says a large portion of them were gathered in the main worship area of the church that day.