The lawyer of a Louisiana preacher who is defying his state’s stay-at-home order has the coronavirus.
Jeff Wittenbrink, who is on the legal team of pastor Tony Spell, was hospitalized on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19, the Washington Examiner reported. The attorney says he doesn’t know how he got it, but he was at Spell’s Life Tabernacle Church as recently as April 5.
Lawyer of lockdown-defying preacher has coronavirus
Spell was charged in March with six counts for defying stay-at-home orders from Governor John Bel Edwards (D) by holding services at his church in Central, which attracts hundreds of parishioners. The pastor held services on Easter Sunday and is continuing to fight the state over his congregation’s right to worship, a battle that has sparked criticism and controversy.
Critics accuse Spell of endangering public health, but he has said that the state is infringing on the First Amendment as well as the duty of Spell and his parishioners to honor God. The pastor hired Roy Moore, the disgraced former Alabama judge and Senate candidate, to represent him and Moore took on Wittenbrink as a local counsel.
Now, Wittenbrink has the coronavirus. The attorney told The Advocate that he was feeling fine at church and doesn’t know how he got it, but he hopes no one else got it from him. He was taken to a hospital this week with worsening symptoms.
“I went to Sam’s. I went to Walmart. I went to Lowe’s. I used the gas pumps. I mean, I just wasn’t careful. God knows where I got it. The bad thing is, I might have spread to somebody. I feel bad about that,” he said.
Parishioner dies from virus
Wittenbrink attended a Life Tabernacle service on April 5, and he was also there on April 2 for a press conference. He said that members of Life Tabernacle are practicing social distancing and that he will keep supporting Spell.
“I’m very proud of Pastor Spell,” he said. “I think he’s one of the few people who understands we shouldn’t just throw away our civil liberties without a fight just because there’s some kind of crisis going on.”
Spell told his congregation about the infection, and said he is praying for Wittenbrink, the Advocate said. But his church was met with more controversy on Thursday when it was reported an elderly parishioner has tragically died from the virus.
“That is a lie,” Spell told reporters, saying the parishioner died from another medical condition.
Controversy rages over lockdowns
The controversy comes as a national debate rages over lockdowns and the balance between health and civil liberties. Attorney general Bill Barr has weighed in, saying that the government may not single out worshipers from gathering.
While church gatherings have sparked criticism, some have pointed to the categorization of liquor stores as “essential” in some states as proof that worshipers are being targeted and civil rights are under threat. New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy was mocked for telling Fox News host Tucker Carlson this week, “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,” when asked why attendees of a rabbi’s funeral were arrested in early April. Murphy cited “the data and the science” instead.