Florida pastor charged with unlawful gathering
by Harvest Prude
Posted 3/31/20, 11:13 am
Authorities in Tampa, Fla., did not like what they saw on Sunday on The River church’s worship service livestream: a sanctuary full of congregants. Police arrested Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne on Monday for violating an order to limit gatherings to 10 people because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But the church and its attorneys say the livestream didn’t show the safety measures in place such as placing family groups 6 feet apart in the auditorium, having staff members wear gloves, giving each attendee hand sanitizer, and using a $100,000 air purifying system.
Was the church within its rights? Liberty Counsel, the religious liberty law firm representing Howard-Browne, said the Tampa order discriminated by giving commercial businesses, but not churches, broad exemptions to social distancing orders, including an exception for any business that can enforce 6 feet of separation between people. Howard-Browne was released on bond less than an hour after his arrest on Monday.
Dig deeper: Read Steve West’s report in Liberties about how the coronavirus pandemic affects freedom of worship.
Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this report since its initial posting.
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Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.