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Gov. DeSantis says churches shouldn't be forced to close during 'safer-at-home' order, state attorney says that will 'put lives at risk'

Posted at 3:44 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 23:17:42-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Gov. Ron DeSantis made a change to his statewide "safer-at-home" order.

The order, signed Wednesday, supersedes any local order, including what services are deemed essential. The announcement comes after a local church caught national attention after the pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church held a large service despite Hillsborough County's social distancing order being in place.

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The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested the pastor earlier in the week, prompting the embattled pastor to announce on social media that he will shut down down the church Wednesday night.


But now, as of Thursday afternoon, Gov. DeSantis says church services are a go.

Gov. DeSantis said during Thursday evening's press conference that he doesn't think the state has the authority to force churches to shut down during the safer-at-home order. He added that people need these church services and there is "no reason you can't do church services six feet apart."

State Attorney Andrew Warren tweeted on Thursday that he "Can't fathom why [Gov. DeSantis] is using his power to remove safeguards that will save lives."

During an interview via ZOOM with ABC Action News, Warren criticized DeSantis' new order, saying he thought it was "weak and spineless, I thought it was an April Fools’ joke."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp also blasted Gov. DeSantis' executive order. She released a letter urging Gov. DeSantis to remove "this glaring and dangerous exemption."

Below is the new executive order released by Gov. DeSantis' office:

Following the interview, Warren released the following statement:

"I cannot fathom why Governor Ron DeSantis is using his power to remove safeguards that were already in place around the state to save lives of my fellow Floridians. With these executive orders, DeSantis has undermined the sacrifices that millions of Floridians have been making to flatten the curve and has guaranteed that many more people will become infected, hospitalized, and die as a result of COVID-19.

This moment of crisis requires true leadership: strong and decisive judgment. Instead, we received two weak and flip-flopping executive orders just hours apart in which DeSantis caved to political pressure from conspiracy theorists and science deniers. He has put his political ambitions above the lives of our health care workers, law enforcement officers, and all Floridians.

I'm not going to let this governor put our community at risk. For the safety of our residents, I will continue to encourage all of Hillsborough to follow the responsible social distancing orders that we have enacted, consistent with guidance from scientists, public health experts, and elected officials across the country."