Criminal charges against pastor who held services during lockdown are dropped

Rodney Howard-Browne(Photo: Facebook/River Church)

Charges have been dropped against a pastor who was arrested for holding large church services despite lockdown rules. 

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, leader of Revival International Ministries, was arrested in March for defying state orders and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of healthy emergency rules. 

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at the time of his arrest that the pastor had been "reckless" in continuing to hold public worship.

Howard-Browne had since agreed to suspend services at the church but appointed Liberty Counsel to defend him in a legal challenge over his arrest.

Since then, the Hillsborough state attorney's office stated that Howard-Browne has maintained responsible social distancing during services.

At the time of his arrest in March, the pastor said: "No one's expecting me to make this announcement but I actually have no choice.

"What people don't know is from Monday I actually shut the whole church down. I shut the ministry down.

"And so we probably had no more than nine people there at any time, just with the essential services from the food ministry. ... So there's been nothing there the whole week."

The decision was made despite Florida Governor Ron DeSantis the same day reclassifying attending religious services as an essential activity, meaning that it is exempt from restrictions on movement.

In one video broadcast on Facebook earlier in March, Howard-Browne claimed to have received death threats and said that the church has been shot at following his arrest.

He said that keeping churches open during the pandemic was a First Amendment issue.

"We have forced a national debate on the subject of the First Amendment," he said.

"Again, it's not about a virus. It's about the church being an essential service to the community, where the church can meet and take care of the people."

He added: "I'm not ashamed to be arrested for the First Amendment of the United States."