Pastor Arrested For Ignoring Social Distancing, Sending Buses For Parishioners

Sandy Malone

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne refused to meet with sheriff's officials and continued to hold massive church services.

Tampa, FL – A Florida pastor who ignored the state’s “safer at home” order and held two Sunday services with more than 500 people in attendance was arrested on Monday.

Officials said that Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne even sent buses to pick up some of his parishioners and bring them to church on March 29, WTVT reported.

Law enforcement tried to meet with the pastor on Friday to discuss their concerns.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister sent command staff to the East Tampa church on March 28 to talk about the “dangerous environment” the church was creating, but the pastor refused to meet with them and also refused to cancel Sunday services, , WTVT reported.

A live-stream of the services showed a packed crowd and zero effort being made to adhere to any social distancing restrictions.

Sheriff Chronister and Florida State’s Attorney Andrew Warren announced Monday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Howard-Browne, WTVT reported.

He was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and violating public health emergency rules of isolation and quarantine.

"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger," Sheriff Chronister told reporters. "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 sheriff said the shutdown had nothing to do with religious freedom and pointed to other area churches that have continued services while adhering to the safety guidelines, WTVT reported.

"I was appalled and also frightened at the fact that those individuals [were] thinking and believing they are doing the right thing. How many people are they going to infect if they have COVID-19?" Sheriff Chronister asked. "There is nothing more important than faith especially during a pandemic, but like every other church here in the Bay Area, do it responsibly."

The sheriff said he was worried about how many people who attended those service were infected and how their violation of the “safer at home” guidance would help spread the virus, WTVT reported.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here is hiding behind the First Amendment," Warren added. "One, it’s absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid. Second of all, leaders from our faith-based community across this country have embraced the importance of social distancing.”

Howard-Browne was released from custody on a $500 bond about 40 minutes after he was taken into custody, WTVT reported.

In Louisiana, a Pentecostal preacher who has claimed his worship services cure cancer and HIV held services for 1,000 people on Sunday, too, the Associated Press reported.

Reverend Tony Spell has claimed coronavirus is “politically motivated” and said no “dictator law” would keep him from holding services during the pandemic, and he also sent buses to pick up his parishioners and bring them to church.

On Saturday, Spell led more than 100 people who were not social distancing on a parade through the community in a traditional Louisiana “funeral repast,” the Associated Press reported.

But Louisiana’s governor and local authorities have thus far done nothing to stop the minister from continuing to plan and hold large gatherings, WAFB reported.

“I have not put pressure on any officials to enforce that in any particular situation, whether it’s in Baton Rouge or elsewhere, but I do implore those folks to comply,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said.

But leaders of other Christian churches in the area have banded together to encourage their church members to stay home, WAFB reported.

“The best way to worship a savior who healed the sick right now is to do so from home. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, and we can’t love them if we’re giving them coronavirus,” said Rev. Nathan Empsall from a group called Faithful America.

Comments (67)
No. 1-14
Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Everyone has the right to stay home, anytime they want.

Why is one part of the First Amendment suspended, but the Press can continue to freely travel to do their non-essential "news" coverage. It seems that both religion and press have about equal importance to me; they both require so much faith to believe.

46 Replies

186
186

"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger
The Pastor was a Clear and Present Danger. Freedom of Religion does not apply

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

There you go with your loose interpretation of the constitution.

Did Congress issue the stay at home order? If not, the first amendment doesn't apply at all here.

Second, no one is telling anyone not to worship, they're being told not to GATHER to stop the spread of a virus.

Lastly, peaceably assemble applies ONLY to protests in the first amendment, not general gatherings.

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

Will you please fucking read the Constitution just once before trying to use it to make arguments? It's embarrassing that your vote counts as much as mine.

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

It's a legal document, not a story book. Words like "and" and "or" mean specific things in the Constitution. It's not an interpretive poem, you clown.

flybynight
flybynight

Hey Jim, looks like you've locked horns with not only a keyboard fairy but a constitutional scholar as well. Who knew. 🙄

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

Hi, 186.

Would it be okay to suspend the 2nd Amendment now? How about the 3rd, 4th, 5th...

Which ones are disposable by the act of a governor of a state, without even a vote of that state's congress?

flybynight
flybynight

I say 86- 186

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

constitutional scholar

LOL at him. He does not realize that the Founding Fathers were quite aware of pandemics, but did not put any clauses into suspending the COTUS in a national emergency, except regarding the writ of habeas corpus.

"The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

flybynight
flybynight

People like him usually think of the founding fathers as slave owning old white guys. Yet he still tries passing himself off as a constitutional scholar when he couldn't care less about the Constitution. He would cheerfully use it for toilet paper even if there wasn't a toilet paper shortage.

This comment should really cause him to melt down 😂.

186
186

Your post is ab absurdo
Read your American History, The Constitution was written in direct response to the actions of the British monarchs of England
A person who believes she is being imprisoned illegally can file a petition asking a judge to issue a writ of habeas corpus. Again your post quoting Article 1 section 9 of the constitution, is derailed nonsense

cops-kid
cops-kid

I don’t believe it applies only to protest

cops-kid
cops-kid

Ask Andrew Cuomo

186
186

You are correct. It covers all types of speech. Case in point, Drivers used to flash their headlights to warn oncoming vehicles of a police presence ahead.
The police started to issue tickets for this. Courts ruled it was protected by the 1st Amendment

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US


186, you say my post is absurd, but you state that "Freedom of Religion does not apply."

You say that it is okay to restrict the free exercise of religion because of a little respiratory virus spreading. I am not aware of anything that gives the states power to do that.

So is it also okay to restrict the 2nd Amendment and any others the overlords wish to suspend? Which ones? Please answer my question. Thank you.

portManaT13
portManaT13

B! S! 2 U!! This is TYARNNY, unconstitutional, counter productive, destructive, disastrous, irrational, and unnecessary.
The President is right: This Is War, first against a new virus, but then also by our own civil government against WE THE PEOPLE.
This FLU "pandemic" is spreading around the world, just as its Chinese creators wanted it to do. We are responding in an emotional panic mode, shutting down our economy (so they can catch up) just as the Chinese wanted us to do.
There have been new FLU varieties (H1N1, etc.) that have been very similar to this one, but we have never reacted this way. THE FLU kills 50 -- 80 thousand each year in this country; the new flu varieties in their debut year, kill more, just like this one.
The draconian measures imposed upon us by our "nanny governments" need to come to an end--NOW!!

portManaT13
portManaT13

"It's embarrassing that your [hcd] vote counts as much as mine."
The 14th Amendment simply and easily evicerates your keyboard nonsense.

Areyouserious
Areyouserious

The second amendment is already restricted for purposes of public safety. You're not allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater in the same way you're not allowed to congregate in massive churches during a pandemic...

Cop Watch
Cop Watch

they can't! they like living in a police state and think that those of us that value freedom over security should be locked up!

186
186

Off your medications again?

186
186

What does the second amendment have to do with yelling fire in a theater ?

186
186

Your post is absurd and knowledge of the constitution and law , is nonexistent.
The Constitution does not give you the right to endanger other people. If you read the Sheriffs statement He was spot on The pastor was not only endangering his flock but also anyone that may come in contact with them later. This was/is not a violation of the first Amendment.
I do support the Second Amendment, However when I run into people like you, it gives me pause to think about it.

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

What does the second amendment have to do with yelling fire in a theater ?

@Areyouserious was giving an example of standard restrictions on the First Amendment. It is true that there are also standard restrictions on the 2nd Amendment (full auto weapons, surface-to-air missiles).

It's a nice try, but I am talking about exceptional restrictions that are being put in place during a time of national emergency.

We've had states pulling over drivers based upon their license plates (state of issue). This is Unconstitutional. Just like restricting the free exercise of religion.

@portManaT13 , rock on. Ya know, all those dollar stores and Walmarts that sell Chinese goods are really booming. They are hiring like crazy. It is a shame.

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

The Constitution does not give you the right to endanger other people.

Nonsense. Driving a car engangers other people.

The word you are missing, is "intentionally."

Going to church does not endanger other people. If you don't want to go to church, don't go.

If you want to be a hermit, you have that right. It does not give you the right to harm others by restricting their fundamental human rights, just because you may be susceptible or scared. Maybe that's what you don't understand. Suspending the COTUS harms others.

I do support the Second Amendment, However when I run into people like you, it gives me pause to think about it.

People usually resort to ad hominems when they are unable to intellectually discuss the topic at hand.

186
186

Jim, In regards to your Fully automatic weapons claim. I refer you to United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939),
To your comment "Going to church does not endanger other people. If you don't want to go to church, don't go." But the churchgoers if infected may not infect me, but will infect others that may in turn infect me.
Next comment "Suspending the COTUS harms others." Who What, Where, and When was the Constitution suspended?

Your comment " We've had states pulling over drivers based upon their license plates (state of issue). This is Unconstitutional. Just like restricting the free exercise of religion." I refer you to the Tenth Amendment.
Jim my advice to is Read the Constitution try to comprehend what it means, take a course in Political Science or even a elementary school civics class will give you more knowledge than it appears you have

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

Tenth Amendment

I am sorry, but I think you are the one who should study up.

The COTUS is all about the federal government ensuring certain rights are uniformly applied across the whole nation. Freedom to travel from one state to another is an exemplary example of why have a national constitution. You cannot have one state making its own laws about its borders. The feds control our borders. This is indisputable.

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

This supports my interpretation, not yours. The First Amendment ensures certain rights for people of the country. The states do not have the power to suspend those rights, as that power is delegated to the Fed.

Now plese stick with me, and don't get angry. We are just discussing important things...

You seem to think that it is okay for states to suspend the freedom to practice religion, and also create their own borders when there is a respiratory virus going around, from what I can tell.

How would feel about the states coming door-to-door to get your guns? After all, there may be civil unrest, and the Dem Governors think they will save lives by confiscating guns, and they have a magic pen that can make the 2nd Amendment null and void.

How about the fundamental right to make a living? Governors everywhere are suspending that right for millions of Americans. Not to their buddies in government or the press, of course, just little people who they consider non-essential.

This is the same government that tells you to wash your hands, cover a sneeze, don't wear a mask, then wear a mask, don't take hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, nevermind, we want some.

If you aren't going to answer my question about which constitutional rights are okay to suspend, I'll assume your answer is "some of them - whichever ones the Governors want to suspend."

LEO0301
LEO0301

Dang it, I can't believe you are still with us. Shouldn't you go out and hug a homeless person?

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

"The Constitution was written in direct response to the actions of the British monarchs of England"

no, the Constitution wasn't written in response to England. It was written well after America won the war. You're thinking of the Declaration of Independence.

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

yes, it's for protests and redressing your government. It has nothing at all to do with social gathering.

"the right of the people peaceably to assemble, AND to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The "and" is the important part. Both need to be met to be protected first amendment. You can't be stopped from assembling peacefully while you are petitioning the government.

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

lol, menioning the 14th Amendment being taken away is highlighting your fragile whiteness. This is why I cheer on people like you contracting this or any other virus. You shouldn't be allowed to live on the same mortal coil as I do.

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

"You seem to think that it is okay for states to suspend the freedom to practice religion"

False claim. No one has said you can't practice your religion.

"and also create their own borders when there is a respiratory virus going around"

False, the borders remain the same as they have always been.

"How would feel about the states coming door-to-door to get your guns?"

All major gun control legislature for the past 50 years has been passed by republican legislation.

"How about the fundamental right to make a living?"

Incorrect. If working was a right, everyone would be issued jobs and we would have 0% unemployment.

" don't take hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, nevermind, we want some. "

because those drugs are used for people that have other ailments, and what they don't need is a run on these drugs for people that need them their whole life.

You're a clown.

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

Brainless. Socialist. Troll.

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

The guy who replied to you...

"the right of the people peaceably to assemble, AND to petition the Government for a redress of grievances... The "and" is the important part.

has no idea what he is speaking about. They are two separate rights, and the former includes freedom of association.

cops-kid
cops-kid

Actually the comma is the important part

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

explain.

h0ghestcomndenom
h0ghestcomndenom

you're a dumb hillbilly. I'm most definitely not expecting you to understand a legal document.

Cops kid
Cops kid

In English, a comma is used to separate a dependent clause from the independent clause if the dependent clause comes first, Example; A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Cops kid
Cops kid

That'll keep'em busy for a while

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

Actually the comma is the important part

Right. There is no need for a comma in this sentence...

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But they added a comma, because it's not assemble and petition," it is "to assemble, and to petition."

Hi_estComnDenomn
Hi_estComnDenomn

first off, you quoted the Second Amendment wrong. There is a comma between "arms" and "shall."

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Which are the dependent, and which are the independent clauses when you correctly write the Second?

Hi_estComnDenomn
Hi_estComnDenomn

further, you are correct that peacefully assemble and petition the government are separate rights, but I came across this explanation specifically for the church:

It states that even though one may think the First Amendment is violated by banning a church from gathering, scholars and the Supreme Court would not take this case because a state or local area protecting its citizens from a threat may fall under the 10th Amendment. As you are right-wing, you should fully respect the Tenth allowing states to fill the gaps of a federal government.

Basically, as long as it is not just a church being told not to gather, a locality can indeed order a church not to gather and will not be sued under the first amendment as long as they are telling ALL institutions not to gather. And that's what is happening right now.

Gap Filler
Gap Filler

Since when has our own government cared about following a little observed piece of paper known as the Constitution? Lol!

Gap Filler
Gap Filler

When I left the military in 1976, the base I came through was having an outbreak of swine flu but officials there told no one.

I got violently ill but was sent home anyway despite my illness. Upon my arrival, the local news reported that the base released an announcement concerning the flu and that one man had died from it, but it was under control and confined at that time.

I called that reporter and told him that I don’t know where he got his information from, but in fact 8 men were dead from the flu, and nothing was “contained”, and that I had it as well.

Next thing you know, the whole country was infected and the government was mass produced a vaccine which in turn killed a lot of elderly people.

It wasn’t until the second vaccine was developed that results were finally seen.

Needless to say, I didn’t go in for either vaccine and eventually built up an immunity to this flu, but it took me three years to do it.

186
186

Here's my reply My dog has more knowledge about the bill of rights than you do.

Cops kid
Cops kid

I agree, that in no way the first should be violated, yet in extreme conditions should it be allowed to be suspended. I think this pastor blatantly crossed that line, sending out buses to transport the congregation. His (and his congregation) selfish actions have endangered the surrounding populace with those actions.
And let's not forget "spring breakers".

186
186

The Declaration of Independence lists 27 grievances against King George III, but no rights If you read the list of grievances, you can see why the bill of rights came to be
The Constitution in it's original form i did not include a specific declaration - or bill - of individual rights. It wasn't until 1791 that the bill of rights was added to the constitution

Ghost_00000001
Ghost_00000001

During a pandemic you don’t have to be in a church building. Our Pastor is holding services via conference calls. No we aren’t together physically, but we ARE together in mind and spirit.

Consigliere187
Consigliere187

Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia, in 1990, quoting Chief Justice Morrison Waite from 1879:

“We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

“To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land,” which would “in effect . . . permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” (Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990) 494 U.S. 872, quoting Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879) .)

Dclement
Dclement

I don’t remember exactly where in the Christian bible it is, but I remember a sermon from a pastor years ago about following and complying with the government laws and orders regardless of faith and belief.

Buzz17
Buzz17

I understand both sides of this argument. Let's leave it in God's Hands to decide which side is reflecting His Will. Right now, it looks like a toss-up to me. The unfortunate thing that the government is doing is forcing the huge part of the US that has zero corona cases or only a handful--congregated in the same area--to behave as though the black plague had been unleashed on us. The mortality rate with corona is far less than the yearly flu--which even Dr. Fauci has finally publicly admitted is taking a much larger toll than corona. Are we going to be continue to lose our minds every flu season?? How many of us responding have had the flu multiple times but always recovered--& had a stronger immune system because of it? Probably all of us! Yes, a very tiny fraction of those who get corona die. The huge majority recover. Let's start focusing on all the positives & ease up on people. Unless, of course, this is a government experiment to see just how far they can push people before they push back!

Stanracer
Stanracer

Apparently he believes he only answers to a higher power. Needs some jail time so he can sort that out.

Suz
Suz

Doesn’t Louisiana have enough problems! How shameful of these pastors! Reminds me of a story well worth the read... A man was in his home and warned of floods coming. Authorities came by and evacuated everyone near him. However, the man refused to leave and simply stated that “God will take care of me.” The waters continued to rise and the man moved to the second level of his home since the first level was covered in water. Rescuers sent a boat and urged him to leave his home. The man declined, again saying “God will take care of me.” The man ended up on his roof and the water was still pouring. A helicopter was sent for one final effort to save the man. He still declined and stated that God would take care of him. The man drowned and went to heaven. “God, why didn’t you take care of me” he asked God. God said “I sent you a warning, I sent you a boat, and I sent you a helicopter. What more did you expect me to?”

JCRPI
JCRPI

Just "follow the money". This guy lives off the backs of his "flock" and if they can't get to church the money dries up. IRS needs to take a close look at this guy and his tax returns. $500 bail? He probably took in a whole lot more than that in the collection plate (or bucket).

ikaika
ikaika

From looking at Pastor Howard-Browne's mug shot, it appears that he really likes that communion wine.

Roger_Five
Roger_Five

I live in Florida and this is being selectively enforced, there is a local mosque that had about 15 parked cars out front it last friday so there was at least 15 people there but more likely 40 or so. Where were the police at to arrest the religious leader there? It seems like it is only Evangelical Christians that have been arrested while every other religious group gets a pass.