Florida pastor Rodney Howard-Browne has been arrested for refusing to close the doors of his megachurch in Tampa, Florida.
The pastor has been detained by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, and Howard-Browne was charged on two counts of unlawful assembly and a violation of health emergency rules.
Even though the church has more than 4,000 members, Howard-Browne refused to close it down, saying that “he wouldn’t shut the doors until the End Times began”.
Mar Staver, one of Howard-Browne’s lawyers, challenged the county’s stay-at-home order in a statement and said that the church had adhered to safety guidelines by giving attendees hand sanitizer and placing family groups six feet apart from each other.
Staver said in a statement that the church went above and beyond any administrative order regarding six-foot distancing to ensure the health and safety of the people.
“Contrary to Sheriff Chronister’s allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was ‘reckless,” the actions of Hillsborough Country and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.” – he added.
Howard-Browne defended his actions in a Facebook Live stream by saying that things have blown totally way out of proportion, and if they shut the church down, the church is not a non-essential service. He didn’t deny that the pandemic exists, though, and in a further statement, the church claimed that closure orders violated religious freedom.
This is what the church wrote on its website:
“The government deciding who can attend a service by way of a numerical limit does not demonstrate equality of rights and ought to be seen as a per se violation of the principle of separation of church and state.”
According to the church’s website, the church is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty, and these orders try to justify unequal application based upon the definition of ‘essential’ services.
State Attorney Andrew H. Warren responded by saying that it’s very unfortunate that the pastor is hiding behind the first amendment, and he called the county’s order “constitution valid”. To add to that, he reminded the “good pastor” of Mark 12:31:
“There is no more important commandment than to love your neighbor as yourself. And loving your neighbors is protecting them and not jeopardizing their health.”