A Florida pastor is facing misdemeanor charges after he continued to hold Sunday services despite a “safer at home” order that prohibits large gatherings.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church was taken into custody on Monday afternoon after holding two services on Sunday, Fox 13 reports. He was released after he paid the $500 bail.
Howard-Browne is now facing misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violating a public health order after more than 500 people attended the services on Sunday.
Sheriff Chronister: Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of River at Tampa Bay Church faces charges for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules. Both are second-degree misdemeanors. https://t.co/08DxqwP5W4— WFLA NEWS (@WFLA) March 30, 2020
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister noted that The River has the technology to stream its services but decided to hold in-person services in violation of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
At a press conference, Chronister 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.”
In a statement posted on Facebook earlier this month, the church explained its decision to continue holding in-person services.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty.”
It continued, “Therefore, we feel that it would be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time. In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community, more than ever before.”
Additionally, in a video posted on YouTube, Howard-Browne claimed that the church had installed technology to keep church-goers safe from the virus, “We brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place.”
“If they sneeze, it shoots it down like at 100 miles per hour, and it will neutralize it in a split second,” he added.
News of Howard-Browne’s arrest comes as officials in other states are grappling with how to enforce stay at home orders for religious institutions.
Despite stay at home orders in Louisiana and Florida, churches continued to hold services that drew hundreds of church-goers over the weekend.