At a news conference, Chronister said the pastor refused requests to halt the gatherings, and even encouraged people to meet in the church, WTSP reported. Chronister said Howard-Browne "put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk."
Hillsborough County issued a "safer-at-home" order effective Friday night. Under the order, only businesses considered essential were allowed to operate under the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Howard-Browne argued the church was an essential service, WTSP reported. He addressed the subject of social distancing, quoting scripture during a livesteam of Sunday morning's service, the Times reported.
“No plague shall come nigh thy dwelling, no weapon formed against them," Howard-Browne said during his sermon. “Of course, we’ve got what they call social distancing in here in this room and there’s people in other places and whatever, but we’re glad you came today."
In announcing the arrest, Chronister disagreed.
“The safety and well-being of our community must always come first,” Chronister told reporters.