A megachurch pastor who made national headlines for holding crowded services Sunday has been arrested today for defying government orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Rodney Howard-Browne, pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, argued his congregation was essential, on par with Walmart.
However, law enforcement officials, who said they tried to reason with him, disagreed, charging him with “unlawful assembly” and “violation of public health emergency order.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a news conference alongside State Attorney Andrew Warren that “We’re hoping that this serves as a deterrent”.
The pastor was arrested and released 40 minutes later in Hernando County where he lives, according to the jail.
The Sheriff added “Shame on this pastor, their legal staff, and the leaders of this church for forcing us to do our job, that’s not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency.”
The River at Tampa Bay Church held two services Sunday, and also offered bus transportation for those services. The church’s live-stream showed a packed crowd cheering and applauding.
But the Sheriff said “They have access to technology allowing them to live-stream their services over the internet and broadcast to their 400 members from the safety of their own homes, but instead they chose to gather at church.”
The State Attorney added that “putting your parishioners at risk in a time of emergency like this is not only reckless, but illegal… Loving your neighbors is protecting them… not exposing them to this virus.”
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