A Pastor in Florida was arrested for violating COVID-19 rules. Do you agree that Church should be “essential” during these times?
The county and governor’s orders require gatherings, including those held by faith-based groups, be fewer than 10 people to limit the spread of COVID-19. A live stream of Sunday’s three-and-a-half-hour church service showed scores of congregants. In a Facebook post, Howard-Browne said coronavirus “is blown totally way out of proportion.”
On March 18, the church called its ministry an essential service, just like police and firefighters, and said it would keep its doors open.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials have arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
According to jail records, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities Monday afternoon in Hernando County, where he lives. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. Bail was set at $500, according to the jail’s website, and he was released after posting bond.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a news conference Monday that he negotiated with the attorney of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne to turn himself in to authorities in Hernando County. His church is located in Tampa.
“Not only did the church comply with the administrative order regarding six-foot distancing, it went above and beyond any other business to ensure the health and safety of the people,” said a statement from Liberty Counsel, Howard-Browne’s law firm. “Contrary to Sheriff Chronister’s allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was ‘reckless,” the actions of Hillsborough Country and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.”
Howard-Browne isn’t alone in refusing to curtail in-person worship services despite public health orders designed to stop the virus from spreading. Churches in Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana have continued to invite worshippers in recent days as at least a half-dozen states offer some degree of exemption for faith in their orders to shutter nonessential activity during the pandemic.