A Tampa Bay area pastor has bonded out of jail after he was arrested following a service that was held at his church over the weekend, NBC News Channel 8 reported.
The pastor is charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, which are second-degree misdemeanors.
Pastor Howard-Browne said, “I’m not again negating that people are dying from the coronavirus. We’re not saying that, just saying that the thing is blown totally way out of proportion and if you shut the church down, the church is not a non-essential service.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said an arrest warrant was issued against the pastor of River at Tampa Bay Church for violating orders.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne posted bonded within roughly 40 minutes after he was booked. His bond was $500.
The service occurred despite social distancing guidelines that have been put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sheriff Chronister said, “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.”
Sheriff Chronister said the church has the capability to stream the services online and on TV to people at home but instead encouraged people to attend the church services.
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In a statement to the press from March 18, the church Facebook page posted it “will do, everything in our power to support the efforts of our wider community by cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and take any other recommended measures to protect our people and keep them healthy and safe.”
On the road leading to the church, deputies put up a traffic sign that says “practice social distancing and stay six feet apart, maximum 10 people per room.”
“The sheriff’s office has advised church leaders of the danger they are putting themselves and their congregation in by not maintaining appropriate social distancing at a time when COVID-19 cases are unfortunately still on the rise in Hillsborough County,” deputies said.
Many religious institutions are holding prayer services online during the pandemic, such as Hyde Park United Methodist.
“Our outreach is to the whole world,” Vicki Walker, minister of missions and outreach said. “God gave us brains and we’re invited to use them and its an act faith in good conscience for Christians to worship together online, not in public.”
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The Hillsborough County “safer-at-home” order approved this past week and an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis limits faith gatherings to less than 10 people.