TAMPA, Fla. — Days after the arrest of a Tampa megachurch pastor garnered national attention, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a safer-at-home order that some legal experts worry will put lives in danger.
On Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis announced a statewide order outlining essential services and activities during the COVID-19 emergency.
What constitutes an "essential service" follows guidelines by the Department of Homeland Security.
But, section 3 of the order includes "attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues, and houses of worship."
This order was clearly designed and worded to provide legal and political cover for reverend Rodney Howard-Browne. We have a public safety issue, nothing is stopping people from following reverend Howard-Browne on his podcast nothing stops them from believing in what he tells them nothing stops them from practicing their religion except to the extent that they create a public hazard or a public danger. And, under these circumstances, I think the order of Hillsborough county was very lawful.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister decided to charge Howard-Browne with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.
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Swartz said the Governor's order undermines Hillsborough County and supersedes stricter stay-at-home laws on the local level.
"There is a serious issue as to whether the governor can supersede a lawful order issued by a local government that is an emergency order or public health order," Swartz said. "I'm not sure he has the authority to do that. I think he is trying to assert that authority, but I don't think it exists."
State Attorney Andrew Warren sent ABC Action News this statement regarding the Governor's order.
The Governors's order sets a baseline for appropriate social distancing but does not undo Hillsborough's more restrictive standards and does not affect past violations of our local orders.
Sheriff Chronister sent us this statement stating:
The Governor's guidance and order is very comprehensive. We are examining it now. The goal here is to save lives, and that is what all of Florida's public officials are trying to do.
Howard-Browne posted a live video on YouTube Wednesday night telling his congregation that his church is closed until further notice to protect "his flock not from the virus but from tyrannical government."