A Tampa Bay Area pastor has been arrested for continually holding church services despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisements concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hillsborough County Sheriff, Chad Chronister, announced at a conference Monday that the Pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church, Dr. Ronald Howard-Browne, will be arrested for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both second degree misdemeanors.
“Announcing the arrest of Dr. Ronald Howard-Browne, Pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church, who intentionally and repeatedly disregarded state and local public health orders, which put his congregation and our community in danger.” Chronister said via Twitter.
In an outside press conference, Sheriff Chronister along side State Attorney Andrew Warren and Bishop Thomas Scott, said the office received an anonymous tip that Howard-Browne was in violation of a Florida executive order which limits gatherings to less than 10 people as well as the Hillsborough County Safer-At-Home Order which states “all residents are directed to stay at home as much as possible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
“Make no mistake, this issue is about the health and safety of our community,” Warren said. “Putting your parishioners at risk in a time of an emergency like this is not only reckless, it is illegal.”
On Mar. 18 via Facebook, The River at Tampa Bay Church said that their faith-based practices are essential to their community and that they are there to welcome those in fear.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty,” The River at Tampa Bay said. “The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty. Therefore, we feel that it would be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time.”
Many churches have opted for online, live-streaming platforms to broadcast their services, an option Chronister says is the best alternative.
“The River of Tampa Bay Church has an advantage over most places of worship as they have access to technology allowing them to live stream their services…for their mire than 4,000 members to watch from the safety of their own home,” Chronister said. “Instead they encouraged people to come and gather at church, they even provided bus transportation for the services.”
While on Twitter , Howard-Browne was angered by how some reporters are covering the situation and alluded that their service is comparable to “Walmart, Costco, Home Depot.”
In their statement, The River of Tampa Bay Church said they hope that the media sees the issue through a different lens and hope they help cure people’s woes.
“We hope and trust that all media outlets would be able to hear from the President and his medical advisors and properly and correctly report the information and advice given by them. And to resist the temptation to report in such a way as to exacerbate people’s panic, fear, and anxiety.”