A Tampa megachurch held a packed Sunday service, despite dire warnings by the CDC and other health officials to promote social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The "Main Event" service, hosted by pastors Rodney Howard-Browne, was broadcast live on YouTube for more safety-minded congregants to watch from home, but the church was clearly packed in person.
"Of course we've got the, what they call 'social distancing' in here in this room, and there's people in other places and whatever," said Howard-Browne, to a room full of people standing much closer than six feet apart.
"I know they're trying to beat me up for having the church operational, but we are not a non-essential service," said Howard-Browne to applause. "And, just so you know, we are totally covered by the law. And people say, 'what law are you covered by?' And I say the First Amendment to the Constitution."
Howard-Browne recently claimed that he will cure Florida of coronavirus, and that he was also able to cure Zika. On Friday, Right Wing Watch posted a video of Howard-Browne with his wife and fellow pastor Adonica Howard-Browne, claiming he will continue to hold services because his church is the most sterile building in America, as it contains 13 machines that can instantaneously kill any virus, adding, "if they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph. It'll neutralize it in split seconds."
At Sunday's service, Rodney Howard-Browne criticized media outlets for objecting to his mass gatherings. You can watch the service here.
"Suddenly we are demonized because we believe that God heals, that the lord sets people free, and they make us out to be some kook," he said. "Well, other religions are free to practice their religion, they're free to do what they want to. Are you with me? So we are free in America to worship God freely."
He went on to condemn scientific reports about coronavirus, saying that the pandemic was less cause for concern than the flu, a view vigorously disputed by medical experts.
"And we believe in laying our hands on the sick and they shall recover, and we believe in casting out the devil and we believe Jesus heals," he continued. "We've put all the legalities on our website, so go ahead knock yourself out."
TMZ incredulously reported the scene at Tampa megachurch on Sunday, and noted Howard-Browne's ongoing defiance of CDC guidelines, including his vow on March 17 that "we are not stopping anything. I've got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church will close is when the Rapture is taking place."