Conservative lightning rod Roy Moore to advise Louisiana church defying orders

The former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice lends his support to Life Tabernacle Church.
Image: Roy Moore gives the Pledge of Allegiance before announcing his plans to run for U.S. Senate in Montgomery, Alabama, on June 20, 2019.
Roy Moore gives the Pledge of Allegiance before announcing his plans to run for the U.S. Senate in Montgomery, Alabama, on June 20, 2019.Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

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By David K. Li

Conservative lightning rod Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, took to the pulpit Thursday to back a Louisiana church defying state orders against mass gatherings.

Moore appeared at Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central to lend his support and advice to Pastor Tony Spell, who faces misdemeanor charges for his continued flouting of state bans on large gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"There is no more clear violation of the First Amendment than this prohibition to assemble in a church," Moore said.

Spell is facing summonses for the six services he has held since March 16, when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced an order against gatherings of more than 50 people. Spell said he hosted about 500 worshippers at a service Sunday at the church in Central, a city of nearly 29,000 near Baton Rouge.

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Moore chided Edwards on Thursday and praised the governors of Texas and Florida for labeling religious institutions as essential services.

"The Texas governor has opened churches for worship, no social distancing, nothing, assembly in the church. And just today, Florida did the same thing," Moore said to shouts of "hallelujah" in the room. "It is very wrong for anyone to issue an order that you can't assemble in a church."

In a news conference filled with supporters, Spell implied that his congregation could not test positive for coronavirus.

"The virus is attracted to fear, and we are fearless people," he said.

A representative for Edwards could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Moore famously lost a 2017 special election for a Senate seat from Alabama to Doug Jones. Moore ran for the seat again this year but finished a distant fourth in the GOP primary, which will be decided in a runoff between former Sen. Jeff Sessions and onetime Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville.