A pastor in Pennsylvania says he is organizing a major outdoor protest event. At issue are COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the subsequent arrests of multiple pastors for allegedly violating those orders.
Evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth recently made a defiant announcement:
“We’re gonna hold an outdoor Easter blowout service. Not online. A national gathering. You come from all over, like Woodstock. And we’re gonna gather and lift up Jesus Christ.”
“Unlawful Assembly” in Florida
Another pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne of Florida, was recently arrested for holding church services, thereby potentially placing those who attended at risk.
Howard-Browne, of the River at Tampa Bay Church, is accused of violating coronavirus quarantine orders during a public health emergency. According to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, the service created a “dangerous environment” for both the congregation and the community at large.
The service was live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page, and showed congregants standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Howard-Browne held the service despite reportedly being warned multiple times by police.
Howard-Browne was arrested on second-degree misdemeanor charges: violating quarantine orders and unlawful assembly. The 58-year-old pastor posted $500 bail and was released approximately 40 minutes after being booked.
Sheriff Chronister says, “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.“
But Howard-Browne’s attorneys argue there will be a reckoning for the arrest, saying, “The sheriff and Hillsborough County will get a lesson on the Constitution and discriminatory application of the law.”
Defending a Fellow Pastor
Meanwhile, Shuttlesworth says, “I’m not ashamed that Dr. Rodney got arrested. I’m ashamed that when they wanted to arrest preachers for having church, in an entire state, there was only one to come for.”
Shuttlesworth says Howard-Browne’s was arrested for “having church”, and tweeted:
“Pastor arrested for having a church service in his own building on Sunday, just like 1938 Germany.. and just like 1938 Germany, other pastors say nothing, or applaud the arrest!“
Another Arrest in Louisiana
A Louisiana pastor faces six misdemeanor charges after holding services for an estimated 500 congregants, despite a ban on gatherings. Pastor Tony Spell, of Central’s Life Tabernacle Church, was arrested one day after Howard-Browne. He was released after being read his rights, booked, and fingerprinted.
Not an Attack on Religious Freedom
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump said “We’re going to have a really rough two weeks.” Coronavirus deaths are peaking right now, and social distancing is a crucial factor in containing the spread.
“It is absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines. It’s a matter of life and death,” the President emphasized.
In response to Howard-Browne’s arrest, State Attorney Andrew Warren, quoted the Bible, saying:
“I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus,” Warren said.