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Pentecostal preacher Tony Spell didn’t just stand before his congregation on Sunday in defiance of the governor’s order to stay home: He leaped into the pews, paraded, hugged and laid hands on worshipers’ foreheads in prayer.
“We’re free people. We’re not going to be intimidated. We’re not going to cower,” the Rev. Spell said from the pulpit of Life Tabernacle Church in a suburb of Baton Rouge. “We’re not breaking any laws.”
Across Louisiana, the coronavirus has infected more than 3,500 people and led to 151 deaths as of Sunday, with one of the highest per-capita death rates in the country down the interstate in New Orleans. To limit its spread, Gov. John Bel Edwards banned gatherings of more than 50 people earlier this month and on March 22 issued a stay-at-home order.
To comply, Catholic churches canceled Mass and switched to virtual services. Many Protestant churches did too. But some have continued to gather, with none drawing more attention than Life Tabernacle.
The 60-year-old church has continued to use its fleet of two dozen buses to bring hundreds of congregants to services three times a week from five surrounding parishes, including congregants from mobile home parks and public housing in low-income neighborhoods. More than 1,100 people of various races worship by age group at seven sanctuaries on the property. Only about 10% have stayed away, said Spell's father, the Rev. Tony Spell, 66, including his own 90-year-old father who has been sheltering at home.
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