State officials dropped misdemeanor charges late last week Friday against a Florida pastor who was accused of violating stay-at-home orders by holding Sunday services in March, during the rise of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement that the prosecution of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who serves at the River at Tampa Bay Church, would not proceed.
Warren added that the pastor has conducted worship operations “responsibly” since he was arrested.
Howard-Browne had been charged with unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency. The pastor reportedly held services at the church despite local orders to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, according to authorities.
Watch Friday Nights Big Announcement 👇🏼
All Charges Dropped! https://t.co/nDqPYhPBCB
— Rodney Howard-Browne (@rhowardbrowne) May 17, 2020
“Our office has determined that further prosecution or punishment would not provide increased protections for our community and is not needed to achieve any additional change in Pastor Howard-Browne’s behavior,” Warren added.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel that represents Howard-Browne, released a statement on Friday that calls the arrest “politically motivated”and adds that the case should never have been brought.
“Neither the pastor nor The River at Tampa Bay Church did anything wrong,” Staver said. “We are pleased that all the charges have been dropped. It is now time to move forward with healing and restoration.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exempted houses of worship from a statewide stay-at-home order shortly after the arrest.