Liberty Counsel to represent Florida pastor arrested for church service, says he followed social distancing rules

by Laura Mize · Mar 31st, 2020 12:47 pm

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who was arrested at his Florida home on Monday for holding a service at The River at Tampa Bay Church on Sunday, will be represented by The Liberty Counsel legal group.

TLC said that Howard-Browne complied with the order to practice social distancing at his church, including enforcing six-foot separation, distributing hand sanitizer, and installing a hospital-grade purification system.

Howard-Browne's attorney, Mat Staver, says Hillsborough County orders restricting gatherings and requiring residents to stay home discriminate against churches.

"The order allows a wide range of commercial operations that are either specifically exempt or exempt if they can comply with a six-foot separation. Yet, if the purpose of your meeting is religious, the county prohibits it with no exception for the six-foot separation," Staver said in a statement. "The problem with this administrative order is it was not reviewed by constitutional experts or vetted by a deliberative body. Neither the Constitution nor Florida law protecting churches and the free exercise of religion disappear."

Staver is chairman and founder of The Liberty Counsel legal group.

Howard-Browne has been charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.

While Howard-Browne was being arrested, the Sheriff of Hillsborough County held a press conference in which he called the pastor reckless and a state attorney and a religious official lectured about the Bible.

Staver said Howard-Browne's arrest and public condemnation are government attempts to undermine Americans' constitutional liberties.

"I was shocked that Sheriff Chad Chronister held his press conference before the arrest was completed," Staver said. "I am astounded that Sheriff Chronister used his press conference to lecture about the Bible. This is entirely inappropriate for a government official to takes sides on religion."


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