PITTSBURGH, Pa. - A Pennsylvania pastor said Tuesday he plans to organize an outdoor “Woodstock”-like service in protest of coronavirus stay-at-home orders and following the arrests of multiple pastors in the U.S for allegedly violating such orders.
Evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth said he will hold an "outdoor Easter blowout service," even though Florida pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested Monday for holding services the day before, potentially placing attendees at risk for COVID-19.
"I’m gonna announce it. … We’re gonna hold an outdoor Easter blowout service. Not online. A national gathering. You come from all over, like Woodstock. And we’re gonna gather and lift up Jesus Christ," he said.
"I’m not ashamed that Dr. Rodney got arrested. I’m ashamed that when they wanted to arrest preachers for having church, in an entire state, there was only one to come for."
Megachurch pastor Howard-Browne, 58, was arrested Monday, accused of violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency and holding service at the River at Tampa Bay Church on Sunday. The gathering created a “dangerous environment" for the church members and the larger community, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
Howard-Browne reportedly held the gatherings despite warnings by police.
"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," Chronister said during a news conference Monday.
The church livestreamed its morning “Main Event” service on its Facebook page, which showed congregants shoulder-to-shoulder, while the band was playing, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Shuttlesworth said Howard-Browne's arrest came from simply "having church" when in reality he was arrested on second-degree misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, the paper said. Howard-Browne posted $500 bail about 40 minutes after being booked at a local jail.
Howard-Browne's legal team, Liberty Counsel, argued there's more to the story.
"The sheriff and Hillsborough County will get a lesson on the Constitution and discriminatory application of the law," Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, told Fox News.
It's unclear if the two pastors are friends, although Shuttlesworth posted a GIF with the caption "YOU ARRESTED MY FRIEND?!" on his Twitter page Tuesday. It's not certain if he was talking about Howard-Browne.
"Pastor arrested for having a church service in his own building on Sunday, just like 1938 Germany.. and just like 1938 Germany, other pastors say nothing, or applaud the arrest!," Shuttlesworth also wrote on Twitter.
On Tuesday night, he livesteamed an over hourlong broadcast titled "The Rodney Howard-Browne Tribute Special."
'Love thy neighbor'
A pastor of a Lousiana megachurch was also arrested on misdemeanor charges for holding Sunday services for hundreds of followers in the face of a state-wide coronavirus large gathering ban.
On Tuesday, Central police charged pastor Tony Spell with six counts of violating the Louisiana governor’s ban on large gatherings enacted to contain the sometimes-deadly coronavirus. His arrest came a day after the booking of Howard-Browne.
Spell's service drew an estimated 500 people to Life Tabernacle Church. He told Fox News he prayed for the officers who arrested him and said he was released after being fingerprinted and read his rights.
Following the arrest of Howard-Browne, Andrew Warren, state attorney for Florida's 13th Judicial Circuit, quoted a Bible verse during the Monday news conference, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself,” Warren said. “Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”
In the U.S., all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, tallying over 189,035 illnesses and at least 4,000 deaths, as of early Wednesday. Pennsylvania has nearly 5,000 cases of the virus and 63 deaths.
The White House coronavirus task force said Tuesday that it projects 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from the virus and millions infected. Without any measures in place to mitigate the contagion's spread, those projections jump to between 1.5 million and 2.2 million deaths from COVID-19.
President Trump during a news briefing Tuesday said that as a country "we're going to have a really rough two weeks."
“It is absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines. It’s a matter of life and death," he said.