Here Comes A Constitutional Challenge To JBE’s Lockdown

By now you’ve likely heard about the church in the East Baton Rouge community of Central which defied John Bel Edwards’ executive order banning large gatherings as a precaution, Edwards says, against the Wuhan virus.

The Life Tabernacle Church had more than 1,100 people at its services on Sunday and 300 more last night. Per WAFB-TV

The pastor of a Louisiana church who says he believes the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is “politically motivated” defied government orders and welcomed 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 services with more than 50 people gathered. Spell says 305 people attended the service in the sanctuary Tuesday night.

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,” he said.

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.

Spell doesn’t really help his cause with some imprecise wording. The virus doesn’t have a brain and knows nothing about politics. What he’s trying to say is the response to the Wuhan virus is based in politics. He’s surely right in that some of it is – we know that the media hype surrounding the virus is bound up in lots of politics and ideology, and the momentum of this thing has swept politicians from local to the federal level, each one seemingly building upon the frenzy of the other to impose more and more draconian measures on the public in an effort to stop the spread of this outbreak. As we noted earlier this week, there are real consequences to those measures nobody seems interested in accounting for, and those consequences could well impose a lot greater cost in life, health and livelihood than the virus ever will.

This is a fascinating theoretical battle. It’s a little less fascinating in reality, as images from Tuesday’s services show a whole lot of people who could be at risk – meaning, elderly folks – dotting those church pews. It’s one thing for people to brave a bad cold to defy an obnoxious governmental overreach; it’s another to see people risking a lot more than that.

That aside, this is probably a good thing. Draconian actions such as the one Edwards undertook on Saturday should meet with a challenge, and Edwards ought to have to defend what he’s doing in court. Even in circumstances like this, we can’t surrender our freedoms to some politician without checks and balances, and there is a significant question whether John Bel Edwards has the power to halt church services under Louisiana’s constitution.

Rep. Clay Higgins doesn’t think so…

That was Higgins on closing businesses. On church closings he was even more exercised.

We’re totally on board with the idea that people might voluntarily suspend things like church services and other public gatherings. We’re also totally on board with people practicing social distancing as a matter of personal choice, and people who are at risk for this virus becoming a serious medical issue – the elderly, immunodeficient, those with respiratory problems, the obese and people with Type 2 diabetes – really ought to take every precaution possible.

But the idea that the sheriff is going to arrest a pastor for holding a church service, regardless of whether you think it’s wise, is one which shouldn’t strike you as acceptable. As Higgins says in the video, you don’t burn down a house just because you find termites. We’ll see what happens on Sunday when parishioners fill up Spell’s church in defiance of Edwards’ order.

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