Pastor arrested for violating rules amid virus outbreak
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.
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.
“Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. That’s not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency,” Chronister said. “We are hopeful that this will be a wakeup call.”
The church has said it sanitised the building, and the pastor said on Twitter that the church is an essential business. He also attacked the media for “religious bigotry and hate.”
In a Facebook video Sunday, Howard-Browne said “it looks like we’re going to have to go to court over this because the church is encroached from every side.”
“This is really about your voice. The voice of the body of Christ,” he said.
As recently as last year, Howard-Browne’s church hosted an event with Paula White-Cain, who was named an advisor leading President Donald Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. She’s also an unofficial spiritual advisor to the president.
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