A megachurch pastor in Louisiana who has defied stay-at-home orders intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by holding large worship services is facing criminal charges for driving a church bus backward toward a protester outside the church, authorities said Monday.

Pastor Tony Spell has drawn nationwide attention for continuing to hold services attended by hundreds of people at his Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge, despite facing six misdemeanor charges in March for violating orders from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) that limited mass gatherings.

Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said police have a warrant for Spell’s arrest. He is wanted on a charge of aggravated assault related to the bus incident, which took place Sunday. According to Corcoran, Spell was driving a bus and backed it up on the shoulder of the road, stopping the vehicle within a few feet of a protester. A parishioner is also facing charges for swerving his car toward a protester. No one was hurt in either incident.

“He was trying to intimidate the protester,” Corcoran said. He said police reviewed video of the incident, which local television outlets aired.

Spell wrote in a text message that he would not surrender and that authorities would have to take him out of his church. A bus driver as well as a pastor, Spell said he had just finished dropping off church members before his encounter with the protester.

“I approached a man who verbally assaulted my wife and little girls. He’s a crotch-grabbing, middle-finger using against my church ladies,” Spell wrote in a text message. “What would you do to a man like that?”

Spell said that he has reported the protester to the police every day for 36 days but that police have not responded to his complaints. He said he stopped the bus “because it was a waste of time.”

“This is the proudest day of my life to be persecuted for the faith,” he wrote in a text message.

When asked whether he considered Sunday’s incident to be an act of faith, he suggested he would block a Washington Post reporter on his phone.

Corcoran said the lawyer representing Spell has been hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms, and a member of his congregation has died of complications from the virus. Spell’s legal team also includes former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore.

The vast majority of churches nationwide have stopped holding in-person services since state and federal guidelines have prevented mass gatherings. But some churches have continued to meet, with some gatherings exacerbating outbreaks in states across the country.

Spell’s Life Tabernacle Church is a Pentecostal church that teaches in signs of the Holy Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues. He previously told The Post that his church could not easily transition to online services.

“We’re a Pentecostal denomination, and when we gather and pray, the Holy Ghost comes in the midst. There are healings, signs, wonders, some things done together in the church that can’t be done in a live stream,” he said.

Spell has also directed his parishioners to donate their stimulus checks through his website to ministers, evangelists and missionaries.

Corcoran said the church is the only one in the area that he’s aware of that has defied the governor’s orders.

“He has said that he has healed HIV, he’s healed cancer, he’s asked people with coronavirus to come to his church where he can heal them,” Corcoran said. “He can’t do that. It’s a huge health risk.”

Corcoran said that Spell has spoken with Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Christian advocacy group Family Research Council, and agreed to abide by the governor’s rules but has not.

“He’s trying to hide behind the First Amendment,” Corcoran said. “No one has asked him not to preach the word or preach a service. We just ask that he adhere to the order that was given by the governor and the president, put it on social media or FaceTime like the other churches, but he’s refused to do that.”

Vice President Pence has explicitly asked Americans to avoid worship services, though measures to limit gatherings have set off legal battles across the country as some churches have sued over the issue. A federal court in Kansas issued a temporary restraining order Saturday against the governor’s order capping church gatherings at 10 people.

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