Arrest Warrant Issued for Florida Megachurch Pastor Who Led Services Amid Pandemic

March 30, 2020 Updated: March 30, 2020

The pastor of a Tampa, Florida church is now facing charges after refusing to shut down despite an order in Hillsborough County for people to stay at home, intended to stop the spread of the CCP virus.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and State Attorney Andrew Warren announced an arrest warrant for Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne on charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency order. A number of states and locales have implemented emergency orders to curb the spread of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, a type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Chronister told a news conference on Monday that he believes there is “nothing more important than faith during a time like this” and said that he’s not trying to stop people from worshipping.

But he said that Howard-Browne disregarded orders from federal, state, and local officials and put “hundreds of people” in his congregation “at risk” and others “in danger.”

The River at Tampa Bay Church held two services on Sunday, Chronister said, adding that the church offered bus transportation for those services. The church offered a live stream that showed a packed crowd cheering and applauding, reported Fox13.

“They have access to technology allowing them to live stream their services over the internet and broadcast to their 400 members from the safety of their own homes, but instead they chose to gather at church,” Chronister noted.

Howard-Browne isn’t yet in custody, but the sheriff believes he will turn himself in soon.

Sheriff’s deputies and Chronister himself both attempted to speak to the pastor on two separate occasions.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here is hiding behind the First Amendment,” State Attorney Warren said in the news conference. “One, it’s absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid. Second of all, leaders from our faith-based community across this country have embraced the importance of social distancing.”