A Florida evangelical church leader who still held services in his church despite being told not to has been arrested.
A Florida pastor who refused to stop holding crowded church services was arrested after officials said he flouted emergency orders against public gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Florida officials said they had repeatedly reached out to Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne and staff at the River at Tampa Bay Church, asking them not to hold in-person services for fear it could expose parishioners to the virus. But the pastor continued to hold services Sunday.
“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who interact with them this week in danger,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a press conference.
Howard-Browne was charged with two second-degree misdemeanor counts of reckless disregard of unlawful assembly and violation of public emergency rules.
Howard-Briwne said that the constitution protected his right to continue to hold services despite the distancing guidelines and that his god would prevent the congregants from getting infected.
Speaking to his congregation during one of two services Sunday, Howard-Browne spoke at length about the coronavirus and COVID-19, and he told people the church was “totally covered by the law.”
“Not only the right of free speech, but the right to peaceful assembly and practice what we believe,” he said, according to a video of the service. “Suddenly we’re demonized because we believe God heals.”
Howard-Browne at one point suggested to his congregation that God would replenish by miracle their low supply of toilet paper.
“I believe this will be a time of supernatural sustenance,” he said. “You look at your toilet paper and you think you’re going to run out of toilet paper, but you have another roll where that other one was and you don’t even know how that even took place. When you look again, there’s still enough. You think you’re going to run out, but when you look again there’s still enough.”
I don’t know, Howard-Browne’s god multiplying toilet rolls seems a little less heartwarming as a miracle story than Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry multitudes who came to hear him. But hey, this is Florida where I guess they are more concerned with the end of the digestive process rather than the beginning.
But you can expect the usual howls of protest about how this is an example of the war on Christianity and the persecution of Christians.