A Florida TV station is reporting that an arrest warrant has been issued for the pastor of a Tampa megachurch. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne is facing charges after refusing to close its doors despite a “safer at home” order. The sheriff of Hillsborough County says one of two Sunday services had up to 500 people in attendance.
Sheriff Chad Chronister and State Attorney Andrew Warren on Monday announced that an arrest warrant had been issued and that the pastor faces charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency order.
FOX13 in Tampa says that River at Tampa Bay Church held two services Sunday and offered bus transportation for those services. “The church’s livestream showed a packed crowd cheering and applauding,” reports the station.
“They have access to technology allowing them to livestream 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,” Chronister said during a press conference.
Chronister said Howard-Browne is not in custody yet, but said he is expected to turn himself in.
Chronister said deputies tried to speak to Howard-Browne on at least two separate occasions about the “dangerous environment” the church was creating. He said HCSO command staff went to the church to speak to the pastor, but was advised by church leaders and legal staff that Howard-Browne was refusing to see them or cancel the Sunday church services.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here is hiding behind the First Amendment,” State Attorney Warren offered. “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.”
On Sunday, Howard-Browne defended his decision to keep the church open in a video posted to his YouTube channel, claiming the building had the technology to eradicate any virus.
“We brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place,” Howard-Browne said. “If they sneeze it shoots it down like at 100 miles per hour and it will neutralize it in a split second.”
The church provided the following statement on their website:
“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.”