The pastor of a Tampa megachurches faces charges after refusing to close his doors despite a “home security” order. Whose in force in Hillsborough County, intended to stop the spread of COVID-19. The sheriff says up to 500 people attended Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne’s Sunday services.
Howard-Browne, 58, turned himself in Monday afternoon after Sheriff Chad Chronister and state prosecutor Andrew Warren announced Monday that an arrest warrant had been issued on charges of unlawful assembly; and for violating the rules of isolation and emergency quarantine of public health. Howard-Browne was released 40 minutes after posting a $500 bonus.
On Friday, Sheriff Chronister said, deputies had tried to talk to Howard-Browne on at least two separate occasions about the “dangerous environment” the church was creating.
He said HCSO commando staff went to East Tampa Church, but church leaders and legal staff warned them that Howard-Browne refused to see them and also refused to cancel Sunday church services.
“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation and thousands of residents who could interact with them this week in danger,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
“They have access to technology that allows them to live stream their services over the Internet. Transmit them to their 400 members from the safety of their own homes, but instead they chose to meet in the church“; Added.
Chronister emphasized that the order was not an attack on religious freedom. He also noted that there are other Churches in the Tampa Bay area that follow the social estrangement guidelines established by the CDC. He said his concern now is whether the new coronavirus may spread after overcrowded services.
“I was horrified and also frightened by the fact that those people thinking and believing they were doing the right thing. How many people are going to infect if they have COVID-19?” Chronister asked.
“There is nothing more important than faith, especially during a pandemic. But like any other church here in the Bay Area, do it responsibly”; Added.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here hides behind the First Amendment,” state prosecutor Warren offered.
“One, it is absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid. Second, the leaders of our faith-based community across the country have accepted the importance of social estrangement”; Culminated.