What the coronavirus could not do to a Tampa, Fla. megachurch, a bomb threat has done.
The embattled pastor of the church, arrested last month after encouraging his followers to attend crowded services, said his church was the target of a bomb threat over Easter weekend.
Patch reports that in an online sermon broadcast Easter Sunday evening, the Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne said he closed The River at Tampa Bay Church over the weekend despite being able to open under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency stay-at-home order.
“We can open. We’re clear to open,” Howard-Browne said. “All those blockages have been removed. The sheriff’s department even put out signs that said, ‘remember social distancing’ and whatever, but we weren’t there. We went online.”
The pastor said sheriff’s deputies with bomb-sniffing dogs responded to Saturday’s bomb threat.
“We had to clear the property to make sure that everything was OK,” he said. “All this has been stirred up by the lies about the false arrest that took place. I mean, I was arrested, but under false pretenses.”
The pastor praised an announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice over the weekend that said Attorney General William Barr was monitoring government regulation aimed at religious services amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Howard-Browne blamed the news media for what he characterized as “fake news” and local government officials for overstepping their authority.
“I know what the law is. The law is the supreme law of the land which is the Constitution,” he said. “You cannot have a local government issue orders that supersedes the Constitution. They can’t do it about the First Amendment.“
Howard-Browne insists that he was obeying the law when he invited his more than 4,000 congregation members to join him in two services at the church back in March. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violating public health emergency rules, second-degree misdemeanors.