Did DeSantis Clear the Way for Church Services During COVID-19?

TAMPA -- Days after the sheriff arrested a Tampa pastor for holding Sunday services in defiance of a local emergency order, it appears the sheriff and local officials across Florida may have been defanged by the latest stay at home orders issued by Governor Ron DeSantis.

At Thursday's teleconference meeting of the Emergency Policy Group, Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck told Hillsborough commission chairman Les Miller that two new executive orders from governor DeSantis declare church services as "essential" and don't impose social distancing.

"Now churches can have their services, as many people as they want, and there's nothing in the governor's order that says they have to be six feet apart?", Miller asked. "That's correct," Beck replied.

Miller said the county's hospitals had "better get ready." He relayed the story of how COVID-19 cases have mushroomed in Albany, Georgia, spreading after a couple of large funerals.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who also took part in the call, said the Governor's order "makes no sense."

Rodney Howard-Browne, pastor of The River Church, was arrested at his Hernando County home Monday and charged with two misdemeanors, after holding Sunday services. Browne insisted he maintained social distancing and had other precautions in place. Browne says he's closed the church for now because of what he called an antagonistic media-fueled backlash. He plans to fight the Hillsborough charges in federal court.

Photo: Getty Images