Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has asked for a federal declaration of disaster in Louisiana where he claims numbers of coronavirus are rising faster than anywhere in the world. The state previously banned groups greater than 50 and has now called on all citizens to shelter at home. That is clearly not resonating with Pastor Tony Spell who defied authorities (and widespread pleas) by holding services with 1000 followers of his Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge. Spell, who has claimed to cure such things as AIDS and cancer at such services, insisted that this is a “politically motivated” effort and promised to hold additional such services.
Spell objects that churches are expected to close their doors but not businesses. He told CNN “If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors.” However, he is referring to stores like Walmart that are needed to continue to supply badly needed essentials for people sheltering at home. As other churches and places of worship have demonstrated, it is possible to make services available remotely (except when ministers spontaneously catch on fire). It is not as easy to make all of this food available remotely.
It bring to mind the case of Mary Mallon, known as “Typhoid Mary,” who was a cook who repeatedly defied orders to wash her hands and quarantine herself. She proceeded to spread disease in New York.
The standoff could lead to a test case on enforcement. There are calls for his arrest and such defiance could lead to a conflict between religious exercise and health protection. The law favors the state in the enforcement of pandemic measures designed to slow the spread of this virus. A court is more likely to respond to Spell that he should consider the biblical principle “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”