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Louisiana's restrictions on religious gatherings give faith leaders pause

“As a pastor, you must look out for the sheep,” Luter said. “There is no one way in the world a pastor should have his sheep at risk of getting hurt.”

NEW ORLEANS —

Gov. John Bel Edwards publicly responded to a letter from Attorney General Jeff Landry,  asking the governor to change a proclamation that stops churches and houses of worship from gathering.

“We're going to do it in a way that we feel comfortable, that isn’t going to cause a spike in cases,” the governor said. 

According to the attorney general, there is some concern growing with the faith-based communities. He said some are growing weary with the continued prohibition to reopen their churches, which may lead many to begin ignoring the orders. 

Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, continues to hold service with hundreds of members despite multiple misdemeanor charges and being placed on house arrest.

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A member of Spell's church recently died due to COVID-19 complications.

Most churches have resorted to virtual services, including Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

Pastor Fred Luter Jr. said, while he and other churchgoers are anxious to get back in their house of worship, he's abiding by the local and state guidelines. 

“We've been live streaming now for six weeks,” Luter Jr. said. “I've been preaching to empty seats for six weeks. We're sanitizing the church. When people come in, there will be hand sanitizer at every entrance. Those who don't have a mask, we are going to give them a mask to make sure everybody is safe.”

Edwards hopes to start phase one of reopening the state. 

After the May 15 stay-at-home order, part of that reopening is increasing the number of churchgoers from a limit of 10 people to a quarter of each house of worship’s occupancy limit, which could still be a problem for Franklin Avenue. The church can host up to 3,000 members on an average Sunday.

“We will encourage people to sit at least three seats apart,” Luter Jr. said. “By God's grace, we have a large enough sanctuary where we can seat people at least three seats apart.”

While Luter Jr. is awaiting the word of the governor and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, he said he doesn't plan to join other churches in hosting a service that could potentially put his members in danger.

“As a pastor, you must look out for the sheep,” Luter Jr. said. “There is no one way in the world a pastor should have his sheep at risk of getting hurt.”

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