Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Tony Spell, a pastor of a Pentecostal megachurch in Baton Rouge, has preached to hundreds of parishioners to not wear masks while holding indoor, in-person church services and defying an emergency order from the governor prohibiting large gatherings.

“We are God’s anointed,” Spell said in an Aug. 5 video on his YouTube channel. “We are standing up for our religious and civil liberties and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never stop doing that.”

He falsely added that “there’s no science to say the mask works."

So when Spell arrived at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse on Tuesday to answer for misdemeanor charges for repeatedly violating an emergency order from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), Spell still refused to wear a mask, which is required for entry. Instead, his lawyer entered a not guilty plea on Spell’s behalf as the pastor waited outside the courthouse surrounded by unmasked supporters.

Spell, the pastor at Life Tabernacle Church, was charged in March with six misdemeanors. The state has had more than 162,000 cases of covid-19 and nearly 5,400 deaths, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker.

Tuesday’s court date was the latest instance of the pastor facing charges and drawing national attention. In April, he was charged with aggravated assault after he allegedly drove a church bus backward toward a protester outside the church.

“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 wrote in a text message to The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey. He added, “This is the proudest day of my life to be persecuted for the faith.”

The pastor said that he broke the Democratic governor’s emergency orders 33 times, according to a video message to his supporters on Sept. 3, the day after he was served with the six notices of arraignment. On Palm Sunday, the church hosted more than 1,200 parishioners, Spell told CNN.

When states first began lifting coronavirus lockdown measures in the summer, tensions around face masks had been mounting since the CDC first recommended them. (The Washington Post)

Spell has been outspoken about his disdain for masks. In the Aug. 5 video, the pastor claimed that masks are the “precursor” to the Antichrist and said that a vaccine would “have the ability to track all of humankind.”

The Louisiana pastor is not alone among religious leaders in openly defying state rules and disapproving of masks. A church in Ventura County, Calif., which held six indoor services in August, was fined $3,000, and the pastor was also held in contempt of a statewide order that forbade religious services during the pandemic. Earlier this month, a pastor in Idaho who called himself a “no-masker” contracted the coronavirus and ended up in intensive care.

Churches and other houses of worship have led to cluster outbreaks of the coronavirus. The New York Times reported in July that more than 650 cases were linked to about 40 religious events and churches across the country since the start of the pandemic.

The Advocate reported in April that a 78-year-old member of Spell’s church died of the coronavirus and that one of the pastor’s lawyers was hospitalized after contracting the virus. It is unknown how many other of Spell’s parishioners have gotten covid-19.

When Spell arrived at the courthouse on Tuesday, he knew he would not be allowed in without a mask. He was held in contempt of court last month because he didn’t appear before the judge since he refused to wear a mask. It is unclear what the charges were regarding in that case, but Spell said in a video on his YouTube page that he lost and would have to pay a fine or face six months in prison. Spell said his team of lawyers, which includes Roy Moore, a former Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama who was accused of sexually assaulting underage girls, are appealing the case.

Since Tuesday’s hearing was regarding misdemeanors, Spell wasn’t required to be in the courtroom with his attorney. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Later on Tuesday, the pastor led dozens of parishioners in in-person worship at Life Tabernacle Church. A live stream of the service shows him railing against media coverage of the day’s events.

“It’s not about the mask, it’s about not guilty,” Spell said. “I’m guilty of having church. I’m guilty of preaching. I’m guilty of praying. But I’m not guilty of breaking any law. I’m not guilty. The only thing I’m guilty of is doing what the Bible told me to do: ‘Do not forsake the assembly of ourselves together.’ ”