Misdemeanor charges were dropped Friday against a Florida pastor accused of violating stay-at-home orders by holding Sunday services with hundreds of people in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement that the prosecution of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of the River at Tampa Bay Church would not proceed. Warren said Howard-Browne has conducted operations responsibly since his arrest in March.
Howard-Browne had been charged with unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency. The pastor held services at the church despite local orders to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, authorities said.
“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 said.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel that represents Howard-Browne, released a statement Friday calling the Howard-Browne’s arrest “politically motivated"and 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.”
Shortly after the arrest, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exempted houses of worship from a statewide stay-at-home order.