Coronavirus: Pastor arrested for violating social distancing rules by repeatedly holding large church services

Oliver O'Connell

A pastor in Florida has been arrested for violating coronavirus social distancing rules by holding two large services at his church over the weekend.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister confirmed on Monday afternoon that Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne had been arrested.

“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 sheriff said.

The River at Tampa Bay Church held two services on Sunday, despite a county order for residents to stay at home, and warnings from the sheriff's office to both Pastor Howard-Browne and church attorneys.

Sheriff Chronister said that the church has the ability to livestream services but still encouraged people to show up in person, even laying on buses for some of the congregation.

Sunday's livestream showed worshippers standing shoulder to shoulder while the church band played on stage.

“Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanours,” Mr Chronister said. “Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshipping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first.”

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