Florida pastor arrested after holding crowded Sunday service amid 'safer-at-home' order

Catherine Garcia

A Florida pastor was arrested on Monday and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules after authorities say his church violated a "safer-at-home" order.

In an attempt to slow down the spread of coronavirus, Hillsborough County officials on Friday ordered all essential businesses and organizations to keep customers and employees six feet away from each other, or shut down. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said authorities received an anonymous tip on Sunday about Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church, with the person saying Howard-Browne "refused a request to temporarily stop holding large gatherings at his church. Instead, he was encouraging his large congregation to meet at his church."

A livestream of Sunday's service showed the church's main sanctuary was crowded, with people standing and sitting right next to each other. Earlier this month, the church posted on its website that it is a "place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty," and it would "be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time."

Howard-Browne posted a $500 bond and was released Monday afternoon, WTSP reports. If convicted, he faces up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

More stories from theweek.com
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is what real coronavirus leadership looks like
The case for cautious optimism about the pandemic
As coronavirus spreads in prisons, California to release 3,500 inmates early