Hundreds gathered at the Life Tabernacle church, despite Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' statewide stay-at-home order on March 22, which banned gatherings of over 10 people

By Maria Pasquini
March 30, 2020 11:34 AM
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Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish, LA
Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge
| Credit: Google Maps

Although churches around the country have switched to online services amid the coronavirus pandemic, one Louisiana house of worship is continuing to open its doors to worshippers — despite a statewide stay-at-home order.

The Life Tabernacle church outside of Baton Rouge held their morning services on Sunday, which were attended by many worshipers. Although the Associated Press estimated that around 500 churchgoers were in attendance, Rev. Tony Spell told The Los Angeles Times that over 1,200 came to worship.

Spell said that so far no congregants have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Times, which also reported that only 10 percent of the regular worshippers have been staying at home.

“We’re free people. We’re not going to be intimidated. We’re not going to cower,” he said during the sermon, the outlet reported. “We’re not breaking any laws.”

However, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 22, a week before this week’s Sunday service. A ban was also issued on gatherings of over 10 people, with the exception of essential businesses.

Although the restrictions are currently set to expire on April 13, Gov. Edwards said they could very well be extended until the end of April.

“We are analyzing this data every way it can be analyzed. As I stand here right now, I don’t have any reason to tell you that we have substantially flattened that curve,” he said at a press conference, according to Fox affiliate WVUE.

He also called those who are defying the ban “grossly irresponsible,” the AP reported.

As of Monday morning, there have been at least 3,540 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Louisiana and 152 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

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While churchgoers have continued to show up for the services, the Life Tabernacle has also generated extreme backlash — as well as calls for law enforcement to intervene.

“Other congregations are using the internet, Skype, and other safe ways to congregate. Why can’t they? What makes them so special?” neighbor Paul Quinn, who stood at a safe distance from the church on Sunday along with other protestors, told the Associated Press.

“I wish state police would come out and do something. … If they get out of church and go to the grocery store, it’s a serious health hazard. They don’t know how many people they’re affecting, and they don’t seem to care. That’s a problem,” he added.

Additionally, almost 10,000 people have also signed an online petition demanding that Spell be prosecuted for continually defying the the ban.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.