Florida sheriff issues arrest warrant for pastor who refused to cancel services

Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNFDCNF

A Florida sheriff obtained an arrest warrant for a pastor who defied coronavirus social-distancing orders and held church services Sunday.

Florida Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister issued a Monday warrant for megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne after the pastor held two Sunday religious services at the River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported.  A live stream of the service showed that it was widely attended.

“Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanors,” Chronister said at a news conference, the publication reports.

“Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first.”

Chronister said at a news conference that the Sheriff’s Office had warned Howard-Browne and church attorneys at The River at Tampa Bay Church not to endanger worshipers by holding church services. There have been 5,000 cases of coronavirus and 60 deaths from the virus in Florida, Axios reports as of Monday morning.

“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty,” the River at Tampa Bay Church said in a statement. “We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace.”

“The Church is another one of those essential services,” the church added in the statement. “It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty.”

The River at Tampa Bay said the church is continuously cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and encouraged parishioners who are not feeling well to stay home and watch services online.

“We feel that it is very important, at this time, that we keep our doors open for anyone who needs prayer or ministry and to make ourselves available to minister hope and healing and comfort to them,” the church added.

“We are the Body of Christ and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe God‘s Word to us, which says to trust Him and to not be fearful but to have faith in Him. We are praying — as are our fellow Christians around the world — and we know that God answers prayers.”

Neither the church nor Howard-Browne have responded to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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