TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Leaders in Hillsborough County took action Thursday in response to the governor’s executive order allowing religious service to go on as the state battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a statewide “safer-at-home” order on Wednesday that goes into effect at 12:01 a.m Friday. The order limits Floridians to just essential services and essential activities.
Among the essential activities listed in the executive order is “attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship.”
An attorney for Hillsborough County says that order does not put limitations on the number of people in a religious gathering. She says there is also nothing in the order saying people must remain six feet apart.
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller voiced his concern during the county’s Emergency Policy Group meeting on Thursday.
“Our hospitals better get ready,” Miller said. “That’s all I’m gonna say.”
Reporter Ryan Hughes later asked Miller if he was disappointed with the governor’s order.
“I’m highly disappointed,” Miller responded.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who was also on the call, voiced her opposition as well.
“It makes no sense,” she said.
The Emergency Policy Group eventually voted to send a unified message to all churches and religious organizations within Hillsborough County to practice safe distancing.
This all comes on the heels of a Hillsborough County pastor’s arrest earlier this week. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church was arrested after holding large services at his church last weekend. The services took place after a county-wide “safer-at-home” order went into effect.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the pastor “repeatedly violated social distancing orders and put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk.
Howard-Browne has since said he will shut down his church to protect his congregation, “not from the virus, but from a tyrannical government.”
Many churches in the Tampa Bay area have turned to virtual options like live-streaming their services online.