Tampa Bay pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, a religious confidante of President Donald Trump, has been arrested for refusing to obey social distancing orders at his church services. Last month, he vowed to cure coronavirus nationwide.
Howard-Browne turned himself in on Monday to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies, who charged him with unlawful assembly and violating public health rules for continuing to hold his theatrical church services in violation of coronavirus-related ordnances.
The pastor, who personally “laid hands” on Trump at the White House in 2017 and who vowed earlier this month to keep his church open during the epidemic “because we’re raising up revivalists, not pansies,” posted $500 bail half an hour after he was arrested.
Despite being warned by authorities at least once that he would face consequences for flouting the suddenly-ubiquitous new rules, the pastor held not one but two massive services at his The River at Tampa Bay megachurch on Sunday. He even provided bus transportation to the massive facility, where he holds court over the 4,000-odd members of his congregation.
The county’s “safer-at-home” order, adopted on Friday, forbids gatherings larger than 10 people and requires individuals maintain six feet of social distancing at all times.
Howard-Browne defended his church as “not a non-essential service” in a Facebook post titled “End of Days Part III,” insisting he was not some kind of coronavirus-denier.
The county’s “safer-at-home” order requires residents to remain at home unless they are buying groceries, medications, or gas or seeking medical treatment, or unless they work in some “essential”business. Violators can be punished with a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail, or both.