The pastor of a Louisiana megachurch charged with violating emergency coronavirus orders while holding in-person religious services for hundreds of parishioners caused a stir by refusing to wear a mask to court this week.
Tony Spell, the pastor at Life Tabernacle Church who has gained notoriety for live-streaming his in-person services while rebuking the state’s mask mandates, arrived for his court appearance on Tuesday without any face covering, a requirement to enter the courthouse.
He has been charged with six counts of violating state orders limiting in-person gatherings to a maximum of 10 people, reportedly hosting over 1,200 people for in-person services on Palm Sunday, as cases of the novel coronavirus were soaring across the country and throughout Louisiana.
Mr Spell, who has admitted himself to violating the governor’s orders at least 33 times in a recorded video message to his supporters and parishioners, was forced to wait outside of the courthouse as his attorney represented him during the scheduled appearance.
The pastor was not required to be present for the meeting, and yet he waited outside flanked by a crowd of supporters, the majority of whom did not appear to be wearing any face coverings in photos and videos posted to social media.
Outside of the courthouse, The Advocate reported that Mr Spell was making the case for his decision not to wear a mask.
The hearing for the Central Pastor that refuses to abide the Governor’s orders, Tony Spell has been set for January 25th. Spell was not allowed in the courthouse because he refused to wear a mask. So his attorney entered while he stood outside with his supporters. @WBRZ pic.twitter.com/IY4AZBw3zj
— Nadeen Abusada (@NadeenAbusada) September 22, 2020
“This is about religious and civil liberties,” he said, according to the news outlet. “What is at stake? We lose our right to assemble.”
Mr Spell faces fines or a possible jail sentence over the six charges he faces. A judge set his next hearing for 25 January, 2021.
He has held numerous in-person services with reports indicating hundreds of parishioners in attendance. In an early-August video he posted to YouTube first reported by Washington Post, Mr Spell appeared to suggest his fight against the state’s coronavirus measures was one rooted in his religious beliefs.
“We are God’s anointed,” Mr Spell said. “We are standing up for our religious and civil liberties and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never stop doing that.”
In Louisiana, at least 5,400 people have died due to complications resulting from Covid-19. An estimated 162,000 cases have been reported throughout the state since the pandemic began earlier this year.
Mr Spell has continually faced run-ins with the law since the start of the viral outbreak. The pastor drove his Church bus towards a protestor demonstrating against his in-person services in April, writing in a text to the newspaper: “I approached a man who verbally assaulted my wife and little girls. He’s a crotch-grabbing, middle-finger using against my church ladies.” He was charged with aggravated assault.