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.

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.

Cromaxgal
Cromaxgal

I read his explanation online. Here is the truth and you can’t believe everything the media Says. https://www.breakingchristiannews.com/articles/display_art.html?ID=30113

1 Reply

IseeWhereThisIsGoing
IseeWhereThisIsGoing

Translation: he broke the rules. He put people at risk. he tried to make it as safe as possible, spent money to do it, but in the end, he was arrested, and his Church was (rightfully) closed. I am not a member of his church but you can don't need to gather in a large group to pray, putting everyone at risk. Had he closed his church, he wouldn't have been arrested. his actions have consequences.

I hope he is found guilty, forced to pay a fine of $1 (because the important thing is that they don't gather, not the charges), and pray that none of his parishioners are testing positive with COVID-19 as a direct result of his refusal to have everyone socially distance themselves. Let his attorneys handle the rest.

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.

Rayb
Rayb

arrogant A-hole.... lots of cases traced back to churches...

Suz
Suz

I saw them interviewing one lady who was leaving the services. They were asking her about the safety of attending the services. She said she was safe because she was washed in the blood of Jesus. They ask her if she didn’t feel like she was putting other people there at risk. She repeated what she stated originally. And then she admitted that she was around Home Depot and Walmart all over And they asked her as well if she wasn’t concerned about infecting other people. Her answer was she wasn’t worried because she was washed in the blood of Jesus. It was apparent she didn’t give a flip about anyone else. Shameful!

Cromaxgal
Cromaxgal

They spent $100,000 to install a special AC system that removed bacteria, virus and germs. They also had families sitting 6 feet apart. The pastor had met with the sheriff the day before where the sheriff told him it was okay to hold services, then blindsides him the very next day by issuing an arrest warrant. Purely political on the sheriffs side to make himself look good. Karma will come back to bite the lying sheriff.


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