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U.S. Constitution
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Title: Tampa megachurch pastor arrested after leading packed services despite 'safer-at-home' orders
Source: FOX 5 - New York
URL Source: https://www.fox5ny.com/news/tampa-m ... s-despite-safer-at-home-orders
Published: Mar 30, 2020
Author: Haley Hinds
Post Date: 2020-03-31 07:17:58 by Deckard
Keywords: None
Views: 136
Comments: 7

TAMPA, Fla. - The pastor of a Tampa megachurch is facing charges after refusing to close its doors despite a "safer at home" order in effect in Hillsborough County, meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. The sheriff says up to 500 people were in attendance at Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne's Sunday services.

Howard-Browne, 58, turned himself in Monday afternoon after Sheriff Chad Chronister and State Attorney Andrew Warren on Monday announced an arrest warrant had been issued for charges of unlawful assembly and violating public health emergency rules of isolation and quarantine. Howard-Browne was released 40 minutes later after posting a $500 bond.

The River at Tampa Bay Church held two services Sunday, Chronister said, and even offered bus transportation for those services. The church's live stream showed a packed crowd cheering and applauding.

PREVIOUS: Tampa megachurch crowded with worshipers despite social distancing orders

Friday, Sheriff Chronister said, deputies had tried to speak to Howard-Browne on at least two separate occasions about the "dangerous environment" the church was creating. He said HCSO command staff went to the east Tampa church, but they were advised by church leaders and legal staff that Howard-Browne was refusing to see them and also refusing to cancel the Sunday church services.

Texas-based First Liberty Institute, which defends religious freedom, sees gathering restrictions in a different light.

"This is a hard adjustment for people to make but I think we have to make that adjustment," said Jeremy Dys, First Liberty Institute's Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications. "The state has to have a compelling justification, a compelling reason to say we are going to ask people of a certain size or gathering to stop meeting for a period of time temporarily."

Dys said the key is that the restrictions are only enforced temporarily and that religious institutions are not unfairly targeted. First Liberty Institute is encouraging religious leaders to continue finding creative ways to serve their communities online, in small groups, or drive-thru-type events.

"Let's figure out the best way we can go and work together to preserve religious liberty on the one side but also maintain the public health on the other side of things," Dys said. "Those two can work together. They don't have to work apart."

During Chronister’s announcement of the arrest warrant, other leaders from local churches also joined him. Pastor Ken Whitten from Idlewild Baptist Church pointed out that quarantining is mentioned in the Bible.

"It was practiced by people," he said. "The issue here is not religious freedom. Churches are not the ones being singled out. Everything is shut down. There is no basketball. There is no hockey. All of us our doing our part. I'm a pastor that believes God heals…this is not a faith issue. This is a responsible friend issue."

Reverend Thomas Scott of 34th Street Church, a former chairman of the Board of County Commissioners and Tampa City Council member, said his church began streaming online and on Facebook. 

On Sunday, Howard-Browne defended his decision to keep the church open in a video posted to his YouTube channel, claiming the building had the technology to eradicate any virus.

"We brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place," Howard-Browne said. "If they sneeze it shoots it down like at 100 miles per hour and it will neutralize it in a split second."

The church also wrote the following statement on their website: 

"We feel that it would be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time. In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community."

Howard-Browne’s attorney took issue with the Hillsborough County “safer at home” order and the charges brought against his client, adding the county allows companies like Amazon to operate while shutting down churches.

“Not only did the church comply with the administrative order regarding six-foot distancing, it went above and beyond any other business to ensure the health and safety of the people," insisted Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. "Contrary to Sheriff Chronister’s allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was ‘reckless,'” the actions of Hillsborough Country and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.”

Liberty Counsel, a non-profit organization, maintains the church had hand sanitizer readily available, 6-foot separations marked on the floor for family groups, and staff members wearing gloves.

“This church has a concern, not only for the physical wellbeing of its participants and the community but also the spiritual wellbeing and that's what this church has been trying to do," Staver said. "They bought $100,000 worth of hospital-grade equipment they have established throughout the church that kills microbes including in the family of the coronavirus."

LINK: First Liberty's guidance for churches and religious institutions

Staver said the arrest is discriminatory and the county's order is being unconstitutionally applied to the church.

"You cannot look at this situation and say it's being evenly enforced across the board to these other businesses," Staver said.

We asked Staver whether the church had any plans for future services following Monday's arrest. Staver said he's still working with the pastor to plan their next steps. (1 image)

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#1. To: Deckard (#0)

The virus is deadly. So I see why people want to act.

The government doesn't have the constitutional power to close churches or stop public peaceful gatherings.

Hopefully this does't morph into a permanent situation.

A K A Stone  posted on  2020-03-31   8:04:43 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#2. To: A K A Stone (#1)

The virus is deadly.

...to old people with underlying respiratory weakness.

"For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up within three weeks. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for older adults and people those with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover".

Source...http://wcti12.com/news/state-new...-order-to-take-slow-cases

watchman  posted on  2020-03-31   8:13:09 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#3. To: A K A Stone (#1)

The government doesn't have the constitutional power to close churches or stop public peaceful gatherings.

I agree and I'll add that the went the extra mile to keep the people safe.

...the church had hand sanitizer readily available, 6-foot separations marked on the floor for family groups, and staff members wearing gloves.

“This church has a concern, not only for the physical wellbeing of its participants and the community but also the spiritual wellbeing and that's what this church has been trying to do," Staver said.

"They bought $100,000 worth of hospital-grade equipment they have established throughout the church that kills microbes including in the family of the coronavirus."

No one was forced to be there, the church took every precaution.

I wonder if the government will threaten to take away 501(c)(3) tax status if more churches hold services.

Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen.
The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning.
Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

Deckard  posted on  2020-03-31   8:15:45 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#4. To: Deckard (#3)

No one was forced to be there, the church took every precaution.

But if they get infected they will pass it to others.

That is the concern.

A K A Stone  posted on  2020-03-31   8:20:14 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#5. To: watchman (#2)

"For most people,

Old people are worst hit.

But I've read that half the cases in some countries are people under 50. I've even read about babies dying.

A K A Stone  posted on  2020-03-31   8:21:30 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#6. To: A K A Stone (#4)

But if they get infected they will pass it to others.

Possibly, but I would guess that the churchgoers will practice social distancing in other daily encounters.

My contention is that the government does not constitutionally have the right to close churches.

Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen.
The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning.
Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

Deckard  posted on  2020-03-31   8:24:28 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#7. To: Deckard, A K A Stone (#6)

My contention is that the government does not constitutionally have the right to close churches.

The question is: Does the government have the authority to cancel church services?

This article discusses whether the government has the right to tell churches to cancel services.

Government Authority

Legally speaking, states have the authority to use police powers to protect the welfare, health, and safety of their citizens. The parameter of state powers varies based on the state. Generally, it’s a combination of state constitutional power and statutory power executed by the Governor via an executive order declaring a disaster emergency.

The declaration of a public disaster allows the state to act quickly when responding to community problems, like COVID-19. Typically, government officials are required to work their way through a complex legal process to prohibit a public gathering. However, when a state of emergency is declared, the process is expedited and the red tape is temporarily removed.

And yet, while the government may have a significant amount of power during disasters, it is still limited by constitutional parameters. State actions that impact constitutional interests, like the First Amendment’s right of the people to peaceably assemble, must follow certain rules. The government can limit people from assembling if the restrictions are reasonable, are not content- based, and are “narrowly tailored” to meet legitimate concerns like public safety, while restricting constitutional rights as little as possible.1 For First Amendment free exercise of religion, the restrictions would either have to be neutral and generally applicable (i.e. not singling out religious organizations) or they would have to meet a very high standard of strict scrutiny. This means the government's interest would have to be compelling and exercised in the least intrusive manner possible. The government could probably not meet this burden unless it treated all gatherings equally.

During the current crisis, many states have recommended or asked organizations to restrict large gatherings voluntarily. A voluntary request made by the state without forcibly requiring compliance may demonstrate to a court that the state attempted to use the least restrictive approach to constitutional rights. A ban that limited the size of gatherings but did so equally to all gatherings for serious issues of public safety might also be constitutional. A ban that targeted churches, but not other gatherings would probably not be constitutional.

In crafting these policies, some states have decided not to apply the group limitations to airports, libraries, workplaces, grocery stores, athletic events (without spectators), religious gatherings, weddings, or funerals. Other states have created blanket bans for large groups of people. The public health circumstances, language of the order, and enforcement approach for each state must be analyzed individually to determine whether government action is a neutral and generally applicable approach or an act of discrimination.

So what does this mean practically for churches? If your state has issued an emergency declaration, the state government may now legally have special rights to control the size of gatherings in the name of public safety. As a matter of policy and implementation, if the government directive is a neutral law of general applicability and does not target churches in a discriminatory manner, the state’s recommendation or mandate is probably legal.

Gatlin  posted on  2020-03-31   12:21:47 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


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