Laying Hands On Religious Super-Spreaders: Florida Police Arrest Megachurch Pastor

We recently discussed defiant ministers who have refused to end large-scale services like Pastor Tony Spell in Louisiana. Now Florida police have criminally charged Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church for defying pandemic orders with a mass service.

Fox 29 reports that law enforcement tried to dissuade Howard-Browne but the minister refused to yield and exposed his congregation and their neighbors to spreading the virus. He is charged with “unlawful assembly” and “violation of public health emergency order.”

Cities and states receive considerable deference in the enforcement of such orders during a pandemic. While ministers like Spell have charged that such orders violate the free exercise of religion, such claims are made more difficult by the wide array of online services being offered temporarily by churches.

Over 30 years ago, I wrote a law review article entitled “Laying Hands On Religious Racketeers,” addressing how televangelists and religious leaders should be subject to criminal laws. This is another such example. While the article addressed fraudulent practices, the same analysis applies to public health violations.

There is no question that the order interferes with the exercise of religion but they are neutral on specific religions impacted by the limitations. More importantly, they are based on a compelling state interest that cannot be met absent this measure. Thus, while the order may not appear “narrowly tailored,” it is the only measure that can meet the CDC demands for social distancing at this time.

The decision to hold the services at The River was stunningly reckless. The minister is now likely to be convicted and, forgive the pun, sent up the river as a result.

39 thoughts on “Laying Hands On Religious Super-Spreaders: Florida Police Arrest Megachurch Pastor”

  1. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a “safer at home” order that prohibited inside or outside gatherings of 10 or more people, as well as closed nonessential businesses. Pursuant to CA Health and Safety Code 120295 and Los Angeles County Code 11.02.080, noncompliance could result in fine, imprisonment, or both.

    You can steal up to $950 worth of merchandise without consequence, but you can be jailed if you have a get together. No, scratch that. They let out as many convicted criminals as possible to reduce crowding at the jails…after they were all exposed to Covid-19.

    I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know how these orders would hold up in court.

    But I do know that epidemics has its own grim math. Keep mixing people together, and it will roar along. You know, like in all those blocks’ long lines in front of grocery stores.

    Why don’t grocery stores switch to online ordering, delivery, and curbside pickup? It would protect their own employees, and reduce the number of people who get sick for…wait for it…gathering together with people. SARS-CoV-2 lasts for hours aerosolized. It’s ridiculous to think that 6 feet of space between people in the grocery store is going to keep anyone from getting it. When enough grocery store employees get it, the rest will refuse to show up to work. That will lead to grocery store closures.

  2. Well no wonder. Look closely at his face. He’s got syphilis or something other than acne.

  3. Larry Donaldson, read your state’s constitution. Don’t forget the amendments.

    — David B Benson

  4. Do the governor of the state have the authority to order me to stay in my house?

    1. They have the general, plenary powers of the Crown is what we were taught in constitutional law. Certainly that includes emergency orders during a pandemic.

      Of course authority and power are two different things.

      Whether or not they have the authority, they definitely have the power.

      1. But, the power of the resistance is something government has yet to experience. Attempting to lock up the cowboys I know will be problematic. I know, but if the cowboys shoot first the exercise of governmental power may be severely diminished. Just sayin’

        1. Grow up Chuck. You’re not going to get to play cowboy – count your blessings.

  5. “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction” Blaise Pascal.

  6. I bet he walks. He didn’t compel attendance and his right to practice his religion trumps a lot of state actions. Least restrictive method is by banning the entire assembly? I doubt it.

    1. walks, or perhaps they will drop charges on a lot of arrests happening., the arrests are where they story is, lots of times, rather than the conviction., even in regular circumstances. such as this…..

      like when in 2019 they arrested a bunch of old Chinese ladies for excessively familiar massages in Florida. supposedly according to the initial press conference, this was a big nest of “human trafficking” but other than the charge for soliciting or whatever against lonely sore old rich guy Robert Kraft and a bunch of tickets for garden variety misdemeanors, there was not one single human trafficking charge even filed, let alone tried and won.

      Prosecutor: “No one is being charged with human trafficking. There is no human trafficking that arises out of this investigation”

      and NOW look here, suddenly they offer a plea to Robert Kraft

      I predict Kraft will NOT take the plea, and they will let it linger on the docket for a while and just quietly dismiss

    2. It’s shocking to me just how fast the govt & Bio weapons builders in white lab coats came in, released their Wuhan virus weapon, have most of us locked down into their prison, take jobs away & make claims for all our property & even our food & water.

      Lawyer Robert Barns spoke of this issues just last night.

      It’s right at the start of the video:

  7. If this emergency order works then Trump has the power to shut down Congress and the courts.

    1. Ooooo!

      Sounds like “Crazy Abe” Lincoln’s “Reign of Terror!”

      – “Crimes and Cover-Ups in American Politics” – Donald Jeffries

  8. When this pastor dies and gets his interview at the Holy Gates the choir will sing these words as he is walked in: Preacher, Preacher, I declare. We can see your underwear.
    St. Peter will look at the dork and say: You stole money in the name of God and The Lord. To Hell go you in the handbasket!

    1. This man has no business in the ministry. He did it for selfish motives, his own ego.

      1. Kinda like Trumpy Bear wanting to pretend he’s qualified to be the POTUS, complete with Russian hackers helping him cheat his way into office, his own cable news outlet to defend against any criticism, to accuse other media of bias and with a Republican Senate who won’t remove him from office no matter what. All fun and games until people start dying due to his incompetence. But, hey, Trumpy Bear “really gets this stuff”, so maybe he should have been a physician instead.

        1. Natacha – oddly enough, you are qualified to be POTUS if you are to be believed. 😉

  9. Rodney Howard-Browne has always been a snake oil salesmen & so many fall for his lies. He does NOT teach or preach Christianity. He is a frightening heretic.

  10. March 20, 2020

    “Two months ago, January 20, 2020 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the Communist People’s Republic of China.

    “The United States was at peace with that nation and, wittingly or unwittingly, through criminal dereliction and negligence and attempting to obtain the cloak of plausible deniability, the People’s Republic of China released on the world the COVID-19 biological weapon.

    “China has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the World. The Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy has directed his entire Cabinet that all measures be taken for the defense of the United States.

    “With confidence in the United States Center For Disease Control and with the unbounding determination of the American people the Untied States will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God.

    “Congress must declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by China on January 20, 2020, a state of war has existed between the United States and China.”

    – President Donald J. Trump

  11. China should be decimated by the most prodigious lawsuit in human history for its actions and omissions to generate and suppress public warnings of COVID-19.

    Beijing Could Be Held Legally Responsible for Mishandling CCP Virus Outbreak, Experts Say
    By Janita Kan
    March 28, 2020 Updated: March 31, 2020

    Months before the CCP virus developed into a global pandemic, Wuhan doctors tried signaling their concerns about a mysterious pneumonia caused by a SARS-like virus. Instead of allowing the warnings to flow to the public, Chinese authorities censored the information and reprimanded the doctors for “spreading rumors.”

    As more information about the virus emerged, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) failed to share it with the rest of the world and instead downplayed its severity. It withheld information, censored reports, and made false misrepresentations to the Chinese people and the international community.

    When the regime finally placed its first containment measure on Jan. 23 by locking down the virus epicenter Wuhan, it was already too late. The virus had already spread across the country and would eventually spread to 185 nations and territories globally.

    – Allan / The Epoch Times

  12. Thank you, China.

    “Unintended consequences.”

    Wait, or were they?

    China released the biological weapon, COVID-19, intending pathology and collateral damage in a diminishing pattern occurring outwardly from the center.

    Well, that happened.

    1. Uh huh. From today’s “Ogden on Politics”:

      Despite Warnings of Medical Supply Shortages Created by Pandemic, the Trump Administration Gave Away Critical PPE to China

      As early January, U.S. intelligence warned the Trump administration and Congress about a new virus strain in China and the possibility that it could become a pandemic that made its way to the United States. Throughout January and early February, increasingly dire reports were issued by intelligence agencies warning about the growing spread of the virus, by then identified as Covid-19.

      It was not like the Trump administration had not been prepped about what steps to take should a pandemic come to the United States. Days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, the incoming administration was put through a simulation calling for a response to a pandemic that originated in Asia. Part of that exercise included a warning that the pandemic could create shortage of personal protective equipment that would put the lives of health care providers at risk.

      Instead of learning from the exercise, the Trump administration ignored its lessons, ignored CDC’s playbook for dealing with a pandemic, and ignored the U.S. intelligence agencies warning about that China was not being honest about its containment of Covid-19 and that it could well spread to the United States. Instead Trump downplayed the danger of the virus coming to the United States and instead heaped praise on his “friend” Chinese President Xi Jinping, on January 24th tweeting:

      “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi.”
      Two weeks later, on February 7th, the very day the World Health Organization warned that there was a worldwide shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) needed to fight the virus, the Trump administration announced it was sending 17.8 tons of “masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials” to China.”

      Less than two weeks later, on February 20th, the United States recorded its first Covid-19 case. Today, five weeks later, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases, topping 160,000. Medical professionals in the United States face critical shortages of PPE. Instead of gowns, some are wearing garbage bags and reusing single use masks. Many doctors and nurses are contracting Covid-19 because they lack the necessary PPE to protect themselves against the virus.

      Our federal government failed the pandemic test. Spectacularly. Thank God we have competent governors who are qualified and unafraid to provide the leadership the Trump administration is apparently incapable of.

    2. Fun fact:

      The first one was Chinese too. National Geographic wrote, “Chinese laborers crossed Canada in sealed-door boxcars going on toward the WWI European Front spreading the ‘Spanish Flu,'” which it was termed because the origin was unknown and neutral Spain was the only source of news, including flu news, among secretive, warring nations.

  13. JT, I thought the standard was that the restriction must be the least restrictive means to accomplish the compelling state interest. If other assemblies are allowed, then banning their assembly is not the least restrictive means.

    Alternatively, if some areas are able to control the spread without banning church assemblies, like the rest of Florida, or hard hit states like Michigan and Ohio, then banning church services in this locality is not the least restrictive means.

  14. Sentence him to emptying bed pans in a hospital hard hit by the coronavirus, and if he becomes sick with it, deny him medical care and to pray to be cured.

  15. I have no problem with this. He is potentially harming others’ healthy which is not loving thy neighbor. Moreover it is a violation of legitimate exercise of emergency power by the state. Render unto Caesar. Lock him up.

  16. This starts to get into a sticky wicket. Laying on of hands is a Biblical principal and it part of the worship form of many Christian groups. In short, this is a Constitutional issue. By the way, if you are going to discount God, you better not be calling on Him when things get desperate. Whatever is not of faith is sin.

  17. I hope they’re looking into Mr. Spell’s mental health, and I mean that in all seriousness. This may have less to do with a desire to exercise civil liberties, and more to do with an excess of abnormal brain activity.

    1. You all are being insane please try to understand the responsibility he has as a minister to the spiritual needs of the people just as our medical team has to our medical needs. The National parks have been full of people and they have not shut them down, in fact they have discontinued admission fees so people can come there and they are coming in masses.

      1. Aline Deloyce Poe, Romans 13:1-6

        The man was not acting sensibly. He claimed he had over 1,170 people at his service Sunday before last. Calling him out on it is not insanity. Letting him do whatever he feels like despite the risk to the public – IS insanity.

  18. Pun forgiven.

    And yes, public health over religion. i believe the big guy was pretty set on a person’s faith being strongest within. No need of public gatherings. Not that there isn’t incredible power in those public gatherings…, but public health overrides religious custom.

    Room for abuse of rights to gather being abused through this? Sure. I’m reminded of the Rockefeller laws in New York being a stumbling block to the formation of Narcotics Anonymous in the city in the 70’s. Basically, the city maintained that gatherings of addicts of more than a certain number was illegal. The law didn’t distinguish whether those addicts were clean, trying to get clean, still using etc.

    In other words, flagrantly blind to the nature and essence of the situation.

    Infectious disease changes the lens though. It’s why it truly is the kryptonite to so much accepted custom. Curious how this shakes out going forward — but for now public displays of reverence to the big guy are definitely put on hold.

    1. This is not the case with Tony Spell In his eyes God is the Big Guy. He is a very level headed God fearing man of God.

Comments are closed.