Louisiana Pentecostal Pastor Tony Spell, who was charged for violating state orders by holding in-person worship services during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, was prevented from entering a courthouse Tuesday because he refused to wear a mask.
Spell, the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, appeared at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse as he faced six misdemeanor charges for violating Gov. John Bel Edwards’ social distancing orders banning worship gatherings of more than 10 people by holding services attended by hundreds over the spring.
The pastor told reporters outside the courthouse that he missed the hearing because he refused to comply with the requirements to wear a face mask in the courthouse. Through his lawyer, Spell pleaded not guilty to the charges as he was not required to appear in court. A hearing for the case has been set for January 2021.
Outside the courthouse, Spell gathered with unmasked supporters.
“I was refused entry into the courthouse because I refuse to put a mask on,” Spell said, according to WVLA. “Take a look at our church, we are healthy, we are strong, we are unmasked, we are not social distancing and we are not complying.”
The Advocate reports that Spell also said that the court fight is over “religious and civil liberties.”
“What is at stake? We lose our right to assemble,” he said, according to Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper.
In the spring, Spell was one of the first pastors to gain national notoriety for continuing to hold in-person worship services in defiance of Edwards’ order to shut down in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.