Louisiana had already banned gatherings of more than 50 people before Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a statewide order against groups of more than 10 on Sunday. But the first order didn't stop a pastor from herding a claimed 1,000 people into his church week after week, and it's not clear that the second will result in any change. Rev. Tony Spell of Central City's Life Tabernacle Church says roughly 1,000 congregants, bused in from five different parishes, have been gathering each Sunday in defiance of state and federal recommendations, while a few hundred more enjoy additional services each Tuesday. "If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors," Spell told CNN shortly before hosting congregrants on Tuesday. "But you can't say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith."
Spell previously claimed the COVID-19 pandemic was "politically motivated" while "the church is a hospital for the sick," per CNN. He also said a police officer had threatened to send in the National Guard to break up services, which he has no intention of stopping until forced. Chief Roger Corcoran of the Central Police Department, however, says "that was never told to the pastor by my officer." He adds the "matter is under investigation." There appeared to be far fewer than 1,000 congregants at Sunday's outdoor service, which was livestreamed hours before Edwards' latest order was to take effect, though Spell tells CNN the congregants were scattered across in different areas. "We're doing our best to keep everyone safe," Spell said at one point, noting social distancing guidelines. Later scenes, though, showed those in attendance were clearly breaking those guidelines, per USA Today. (Read more Louisiana stories.)