Of Course Kim Davis's Lawyer Is Repping The Coronavirus Pastor
On Monday, the day after he held a packed church service in the middle of a freaking pandemic, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne of Tampa, Florida, was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules. This was good and necessary, as this guy and his idiot followers are gonna get people killed if they keep doing this (and maybe even if they don't). The number of COVID-19 cases in Florida — particularly in the Tampa area — has shot up in recent days and this is not a joke.
Prior to arresting him, Sheriff Chad Chronister held a press conference explaining why what the pastor was doing is bad:
"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger," Sheriff Chronister, who is a Republican, said at a news conference in Tampa. "Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first."
See? Sheriff Chad is a Republican and he gets it! It's not hard!
It should, of course, come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Howard-Browne is being represented by the Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver — whom you may recall represented Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who fought for her right to not do her job.
Staver has since put out a press release claiming that the River Church is being religiously persecuted and also that they were observing social distancing guidelines.
The Liberty Counsel, via JoeMyGod:
Liberty Counsel has agreed to represent Pastor Howard-Browne, who was taken into custody today. As the arrest was unfolding, the Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister held a press conference announcing the arrest.
During the press conference, State Attorney Andrew Warren quoted the Bible in Mark 12:31 ("There is no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself").
Sherriff Chronister also invited Bishop Thomas Scott to speak, who engaged in a theological lecture about what the Bible says on this issue while disagreeing with Pastor Howard-Browne. Scott is currently running for Hillsborough County Commissioner.
The Hillsborough County administrative order has so many exceptions it looks like swiss cheese. The order allows a wide range of commercial operations that are either specifically exempt or exempt if they can comply with a six-foot separation.
Yet, if the purpose of your meeting is religious, the county prohibits it with no exception for the six-foot separation. The problem with this administrative order is it was not reviewed by constitutional experts or vetted by a deliberative body.
Neither the Constitution nor Florida law protecting churches and the free exercise of religion disappear. This order from Hillsborough County is not narrowly tailored to achieve its underlying objective.
Not only did the church comply with the administrative order regarding six-foot distancing, it went above and beyond any other business to ensure the health and safety of the people.
Contrary to Sheriff Chronister's allegation that Pastor Howard-Browne was 'reckless," the actions of Hillsborough Country and the Hernando County Sheriff are discriminatory against religion and church gatherings.
Yes. Staver is claiming that all of these other clearly religious, Bible-quoting people are persecuting poor Pastor Howard-Browne because they want to discriminate against religions and church gatherings. It's not that they don't want more people to die from COVID-19, it's because they have a personal vendetta against Pastor Howard-Browne, which is why they are lying and claiming that the church was not enforcing six-foot distancing.
And that would be a really great story and possibly even sort of a case if the church had not been dumb enough to post actual video of the service, in which we can all see with our lyin' eyes that people are very much not sitting or standing six feet apart.
03.29.2020 | The River Church Live | Sunday AM youtu.be
None of the people in the audience are doing that. They are all, very obviously, standing very close to each other.
"Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this church for forcing us to do our job," [Sheriff] Chronister said. "That's not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency."
[State Attorney] Warren said it's "unfortunate" that Howard-Browne is "hiding behind the First Amendment."
"For one, it's absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid," Warren said. "Second of all, leaders of our faith community across this country have embraced the importance of social distancing."
Religious freedom is fine. They wanna play with poisonous snakes? I say have at! Go and be well. As long as they're all adults, I could not care less. They wanna do the suicide cult thing? Again, as long as they're adults and they all consent, I'm less bothered by that than I am by other things in the world. [I'm not! -- Editrix] I figure it's like the mob. You're in the mob and you get knocked off, I feel less bad for you than I do by someone who didn't sign up for that shit getting hurt. The issue is not what these people believe, but that their actions affect other people. That they could contract COVID-19, go to the grocery store, look at and reject some tomatoes, and then give some unsuspecting person the virus and kill them. That's the problem.
Everyone has the right to believe what they want, no one has the right to hurt other people. This isn't hard.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse