March 31, 2020

Florida Pastor Arrested for Endangering Public Health

Tampa Bay

I wish I found it surprising that the secular authorities have finally had to step in to arrest Christian extremists who are endangering public health amidst the coronavirus pandemic. I also wish I found it surprising that they waited as long as they did to intervene. The issue here isn't so much the nonsense these Christian extremists believe; the issue is that they are openly breaking laws that have been put in place to protect all of us.

According to Religion News Service, Florida pastor Rodney Howard-Browne (River at Tampa Bay Church) was arrested this week when he refused to comply with the ban on large in-person gatherings and continued holding services.

Howard-Browne has continued to hold regular services with hundreds in attendance, openly flouting and sometimes outright mocking restrictions designed to protect public health.
Evidently, he has been doing this "for weeks."

Think about how many people in his congregation were likely infected during this time. Now think about how many people outside his congregation each of his congregants came in contact with during this time. Considering how contagious this virus is, it is not difficult to see why this is a problem.

It sounds like this arrest was not an easy task for the county sheriff who had to do it. He was quoted as saying, “I believe there is nothing more important than faith in a time like this,” adding “But practicing those beliefs has to be done safely.” I think he's very wrong in the first half of that statement, but I have no disagreement with the second half. It seems that some Christians need to be protected from themselves, and we certainly need protection from them.

As for Pastor Howard-Browne, he's been charged with "unlawful assembly" and "violation of public health emergency rules." My guess is that many in his congregation will view him as a martyr of sorts. I suppose the biggest tragedy here is that he's not alone in continuing to hold church services. The article notes that a recent survey revealed that 12% of respondents to a recent survey indicated that their churches were still holding in-person services. Let's hope that their local law enforcement will soon feel empowered to act and that we will see more enforcement of vital public health measures.