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The Florida megachurch pastor who made national headlines for holding crowded services Sunday has been arrested Monday afternoon for defying government orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News has confirmed.
Rodney Howard-Browne, the pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church, argued his congregation was essential, on par with Walmart. However, law enforcement officials, who said they tried to reason with him, disagreed, charging him with "unlawful assembly" and "violation of public health emergency order," Fox 29 reported.
"We're hoping that this serves as a deterrent," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a news conference Monday alongside State Attorney Andrew Warren.
The pastor was arrested and released 40 minutes later in Hernando County where he lives, according to the jail.
"Shame on this pastor, their legal staff, and the leaders of this church for forcing us to do our job," Chronister added. "That's not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency."
The River at Tampa Bay Church held two services Sunday, Chronister said, and even offered bus transportation for those services. The chuch's livestream showed a packed crowd cheering and applauding.
"They have access to technology allowing them to livestream their services over the internet and broadcast to their 400 members from the safety of their own homes, but instead they chose to gather at church," Chronister explained.
Warren added that "putting your parishioners at risk in a time of emergency like this is not only reckless, but illegal... Loving your neighbors is protecting them... not exposing them to this virus."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to shut down any houses of worship that defied the state's stay-at-home mandates.