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Most churches across the United States will remain closed on Sunday amid the coronavirus crisis. For many, it will be a markedly different Easter Sunday as they will worship via livestream. But some are defiant and ignoring calls from authorities to limit congregations to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
One church near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for example, expects more than 2,000 people to attend its services Sunday. “Satan and a virus will not stop us,” Rev. Tony Spell, 42, pastor of the evangelical Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He expects a crowd of more than 2,000 to gather at his megachurch on Sunday. “God will shield us from all harm and sickness,” Spell told Reuters. “We are not afraid. We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders. We will spread the Gospel.”
When BuzzFeed called Spell, he “almost immediately began reciting the Declaration of Independence.” Spell has been charged with six misdemeanors for continuing to open his church to worshippers. “The president did not give me my rights to worship God and to assemble in church, and no socialist government or godless president can take that right away,” he said.
Some churches tried the livestream option but said that Easter is simply too big of a holiday to do over the Internet. “If it’s a crisis, the church should be able to dispel fear and panic and not join in with the fear and panic. We can’t really make a difference in our world just online. We’re one power failure away from being shut down,” Pastor John Greiner of The Glorious Way Church in Houston said. Greiner says he will protect the faithful by removing several rows of chairs and offering hand sanitizer.
In Ohio, Solid Rock Church is continuing to stay open but insists it is taking “all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of anyone” who goes to worship. “Fortunately, our facility is large enough that we are able to easily ensure that everyone who is physically in the facility is practicing the physical distancing; we are providing additional cleaning and hand sanitizing stations; and we are holding some services outside to allow for more distance,” the church says on its website.
In Kentucky, the state government is aware of six churches that are planning to hold services on Sunday. In a statement, the governor warned that police will be recording the license plates of anyone attending service on Easter and require them to quarantine for 14 days. “Local health officials then will contact the people associated with those vehicles and require them to self-quarantine for 14 days. This is the only way we can ensure that your decision doesn’t kill someone else,” Gov. Andy Beshear said.
Update, April 20, 2020: This post originally used a photo of an empty Catholic church. It has been replaced with a photo of a Protestant megachurch.