Mar 30, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Florida megachurch pastor arrested for refusing to call off services

howard-browne
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne. Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

Florida's Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister issued a warrant for the arrest of megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne on Monday after he refused to cancel his packed services and obey coronavirus social distancing orders.

The big picture: With at least 5,000 cases and 60 deaths as of Monday morning, Florida is a growing epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Ron DeSantis has declined to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, but a Hillsborough County order that took effect last week prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.

Howard-Browne, an evangelical leader who has been hosted by the Trump White House, continued to hold two crowded services at The River at Tampa Bay Church on Sunday despite warnings from Chronister's office, the Tampa Bay Times notes.

  • He mocked those who were scared of the coronavirus as "pansies" last week and said his church "will never close," the New York Post reports.
  • Howard-Browne was arrested on charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.

What they're saying: "His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week, in danger," Chronister said at a press conference on Monday.

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