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The pastor of a megachurch has been arrested because he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order. Conspiracy theorist and the pastor Rodney Howard-Brown recently said that his church has three machines that basically kill every virus in the place and that’s why he wouldn’t close his church down. He also called the virus a “phantom plague” created by the Chinese government to tank the U.S. economy.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said his command staff met leaders of the River at Tampa Bay church about the danger they were putting themselves and their congregation. The sheriff was seeking an arrest warrant against Rodney Howerd-Brown.
“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.
Florida officials arrested the pastor. As the Guardian reports, jail records show Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities on Monday afternoon in Hernando County, where he lives. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. Bail was set at $500, according to the records, and he was released after posting bond.
“Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. That’s not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency,” Chronister said. “We are hopeful that this will be a wake-up call.”
Howard-Browne’s law firm, Liberty Counsel, said in statement: “Contrary to Sheriff Chronister’s allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was ‘reckless”, the actions of Hillsborough County and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.”
Some churches such as churches in Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana have continued to invite worshippers in recent days. On the other side, at least half a dozen states offer some degree of exemption for faith in their orders to shutter non-essential activity during the pandemic. The county and governor’s orders require gatherings, including those held by faith-based groups, to be fewer than 10 people to limit the spread of Covid-19.