Tampa pastor shuts down church, but not to protect congregation from COVID-19

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TAMPA (WFLA) – A Florida pastor who held packed services last Sunday and then was arrested said he is shutting down the church.

“I have to do this to protect the congregation, not from the virus, but from a tyrannical government, because all the charges against me are totally bogus,” Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne said.

Howard-Browne made the announcement Wednesday evening during a livestream, saying he’s afraid if he held services at The River at Tampa Bay Church, they would be raided and deputies would arrest his congregation.

Howard-Browne was arrested after large services were held at his church last weekend despite social distancing guidelines that have been put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister says Howard-Browne “repeatedly” violated social distancing orders from the president, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local authorities.

The pastor was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules. Both charges are second-degree misdemeanors.

“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,” Chronister said.

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