Sheriff ‘publicly shames’ Florida pastor with arrest after holding service, lawyer says
The attorney for the Florida pastor arrested after a video surfaced that appeared to show a packed service last weekend told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show” Tuesday that his client was “publicly shamed” during his arrest to send a clear message to other pastors.
Mat Staver said his client, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne, the head of a Pentecostal megachurch, took every measure to ensure the safety of his congregation during a safer-at-home order in Hillsborough County. There were hand sanitizers and congregants adhered to the six-foot separation policy.
Howard-Browne, a Tampa Bay-based pastor, was arrested on a second-degree misdemeanor charge Monday after allegedly violating the order.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said the church violated the order and WTSP.com reported that video emerged on social media that appears to show the River at Tampa Bay Church packed on Sunday.
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The report said Chronister “was furious” and quoted him saying Howard-Browne showed a “reckless disregard for public safety.”
“Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first,” Chronister said at a news conference.
Staver said the county’s order has so many exemptions, it looks like “Swiss cheese.”
“The only exemptions not mentioned are churches,” he said.
Many Americans share the concern about the possibility of government overreach amid the crisis. Some Republicans and libertarians scoff at the idea of state and local governments ordering businesses like restaurants and hotels to close in order to prevent a diseases spread.
Staver hit out at what he sees as inconsistencies. He said Home Depot illustrates his point. He said some of these stores are packed like “rock concerts” and filled with shoppers disregarding the separation rules.
Todd Starnes, the best-selling author and host, said it was obvious that authorities were making an example of the pastor. Staver agreed and pointed to how he was taken to the county jail in a sheriff’s deputy car where he was quickly bailed out. Staver said the move was to “publicly shame” his client, who would have been happy to turn himself in to face the charge.
Staver said these churches are being discriminated against.
“They’re saying a commercial business can operate, but if you want to talk about Jesus you have to close down completely,” he said. He also pointed out that there is no end in sight for the coronavirus outbreak. “I think that people should be gravely concerned. The Constitution doesn’t just evaporate when there’s an emergency.