A churchgoer at a Louisiana church whose pastor openly defied orders not to hold services has died of COVID-19, The Daily Beast reports. The church's pastor, however, insists that reports that the man died of the disease caused by the coronavirus are lies.
Harold Orillion, 78, had been an usher at Central's Life Tabernacle church. Life Tabernacle had continued to hold worship services at the church, in defiance of Gov. John Bel Edward's orders that forbid large gatherings in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Orillion died this week at a Baton Rouge hospital, according to East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William "Beau" Clark, who listed his cause of death as "acute respiratory distress syndrome, 2nd pneumonia, 2nd COVID-19." COVID-19 is the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
The church's pastor, Tony Spell, however, claims that his parishioner did not die of COVID-19.
"That is a lie," he told a local TV station, without elaborating.
In another interview with another TV station, Spell said that his congregant "died of a broken heart" after a previous parishioner died, suggesting that Orillion's grief triggered an early onset of Parkinson's disease.
"Harold did not have Coronavirus, he was never on ventilator, he did not have COVID-19," Spell said.
Another member of Life Tabernacle, lawyer Jeffrey Wittenbrink, has also come down with COVID-19, confirming earlier this week that he was in a hospital and on oxygen support after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Wittenbrink, who had publicly criticized Edwards' stay-at-home orders banning religious gatherings, and who had even represented Life Tabernacle in a legal challenge to those orders, continues to insist that Louisianans should be allowed to go to church during the pandemic.
"These restrictions are out of control. Some governors think these emergency powers give them carte blanche... We should not give up our God-given rights so easily," he said from his hospital bed.
Further, Wittenbrink noted that it's not fair to conclude that Orillion contracted the coronavirus at church, saying that he could have gotten it at a grocery store or any other place where Wittenbrink alleges there was no social distancing. By comparison, Wittenbrink says that at Life Tabernacle, congregants' temperatures are taken before they're allowed in, they're given hand sanitizer, and they sit six feet apart.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Spell has continued to defy orders not to hold in-person church, and has even been arrested for violating the governor's orders that ban large gatherings.