- On Monday, Florida Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for unlawful assembly
- Howard-Boone disobeyed county distancing rules and held two services over the weekend
- The River at Tampa Bay Church has the ability to livestream services but Howard-Browne instead feels it necessary to risk the health of Floridians
Rodney Howard-Browne — a Florida pastor that refused to obey COVID-19 prevention orders — has been arrested after holding two large assemblies over the weekend at The River at Tampa Bay Church.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister confirmed on Monday a warrant had been issued for Howard-Browne’s arrest. Howard-Browne was warned by Chronister’s office that his services violated a county order that bans gatherings of over ten people. Instead of listening, Howard-Browne placed an electronic sign outside the church that urged parishioners to stay six-feet from each other. Video from a service on March 29 shows the majority of those attending not following the request. Howard Browne also offered to bus people to the church.
It was reported that during a service on March 15, Howard-Browne encouraged parishioners to shake hands to show they have no fear of SARS-CoV-2 or the disease that potentially develops after infection, COVID-19. In a lengthy post shared on the Facebook pages “The River at Tampa Bay Church” and “Rodney & Adonica Howard-Browne” on March 18, the church deemed itself an essential service. Unfortunately for Howard-Browne, the federal government nor the Bible deems a church as an essential service.
Lawyer KrisAnne Hall released a statement on the church’s website claiming the restrictions on churches are a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion. Hall has been on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group watch list for years. Last year, Hall spoke to League of the South — a neo-Confederate hate group who wish to create a Civil War to succeed into a separate Southern nation. Hall, a self-described constitutional attorney, has since attempted to distance herself from LOS. In 2010, Hall was fired from her job as an assistant prosecutor in Suwannee County, Florida due to her public speaking engagements.
Chronister’s office spoke to attorneys for the church twice and tried to explain they were violating government orders. Officers tried to meet with Howard-Boone in person over the weekend but the pastor refused. State Attorney Andrew Warren said the arrest should act as a warning to others who believe they do not have to follow the distancing rules despite the claim of working for a higher power. “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,” the Chronister said.
After the warrant was issued for his arrest, Howard-Browne turned himself into a neighboring sheriff’s office. Howard-Browne was booked and released within 40 minutes. A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500 or both. There is a chance that Howard-Browne will face a warning possibly with a fine for a first offense. Chronister said the one thing he does not understand is that the church has the ability to safely livestream their services, yet Howard-Browne insists on jeopardizing the health and safety of Floridians.
During the March 29 service, Howard-Browne claimed that he does not rely on livestreaming the services online because Google and Facebook “limit the reach” to only reach Christians. Howard-Browne claimed that is just “preaching to the choir.” In direct argument, holding a service of his regular parishioners in person literally has no capability to reach anyone outside of the church. In other words, Howard-Browne is “preaching to the choir.” Howard-Browne went on to spread other dangerous rhetoric, such as COVID-19 is less dangerous than the flu, a theory that has been debunked by medical experts countless times.