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Florida pastor who defied state orders by hosting two well-attended services over the weekend has been arrested.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne faces one count each of unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both second-degree misdemeanors, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
"Last night I made the decision to seek an arrest warrant for the pastor of a local church who intentionally and repeatedly chose to disregard the orders set in place by our president, our governor, the CDC and the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group," Chronister told reporters.
"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people from his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week."
Chronister says sheriff's officials were in contact with Howard-Browne as early as Friday, warning him to cancel his plans to move forward with Sunday's services at Tamp Bay Church. The services violated the state's order to keep public gatherings to groups of less than 10 people.
"Pastor Howard-Browne's actions were a direct violation of Executive Order 20-5, which went into effect on March 20, limiting gatherings — including faith-based gatherings — to less than 10 people. "
The church live streamed the service online, and in the video is shows worshippers six feet apart, but they were well over the 10 people limit.
Howard-Browne defended his actions by declaring church an essential business during his service.
"They're trying to beat me up, you know, having the church operational," the pastor told his congregation on Sunday. "But we are not a nonessential service."
"My encouragement to you is not to talk to these people because they're not looking for the truth," he said. "They're just trying to find an angle to shut the church down."
Howard-Browne was arrested but has already posted bail on a $500 bond.
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