Megachurches are exempt from safe-at-home order following Ron DeSantis’ clarification

open Sunday churches influence
No gatherings of more than 10 people, unless it's at church.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safe-at-home executive order will preempt all local ordinances regardless of whether they are more or less restrictive than the state order.

DeSantis issued a new order clarifying and amending the original one late Wednesday following reports, including one from Florida Politics, that local ordinances with more restrictive language would not be preempted.

That specifically pertains to a religious exemption that allows churches to continue holding services even if those congregations exceed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guideline on social distancing that limits gatherings to 10 or fewer individuals.

DeSantis’ updated order removes language that provided an exception for local ordinances that went beyond the state order.

Those more restrictive local measures, which have been approved in a host of Florida cities and counties, will no longer be valid.

That includes restrictions on church services.

The clarification is a huge deal in Hillsborough County where a Brandon megachurch pastor was arrested this week for holding church services in violation of a local ordinance prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people, though at least one county official doesn’t see it being a problem and the language appears to allow local orders to maintain stricter guidelines than the state order.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and State Attorney Andrew Warren issued a warrant for Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne’s arrest earlier this week after he hosted a Sunday morning worship service with 300-500 partitioners despite “educational” outreach from the Sheriff’s office urging him not to and cautioning that such a gathering would violate the county’s safer at home order.

Howard-Browne later turned himself in and then bonded out of jail and is now back at home, potentially planning more services this weekend.

Under DeSantis’ revised order, there is nothing to stop him from legally hosting a large congregation.

Local governments had been acting on local safer-at-home orders as DeSantis held out on issuing a statewide order. In Hillsborough, that order blocked large gatherings without any carveouts for religious activity, the idea being that such gatherings were dangerous to public health.

Health officials warn that individuals could have the COVID-19 disease or the new coronavirus that causes it without knowing they are infected, which puts others at risk as those people continue regular activities like grocery shopping unaware of their illness.

That contagion risk means individuals who attend large church gatherings could spread the disease to countless others, who could then jeopardize others within the community.

Warren, who said on Wednesday that the executive order would not affect his office’s ability to pursue charges on religious leaders like Howard-Browne or enforce the local order, was not immediately available for comment on the update.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


  • Larry Gillis

    April 2, 2020 at 1:34 pm


    God graced all of us with Free Will. And, the First Amendment protects the right of free assembly. In other words, we all have the severely-protected right to be dumb, dumb, dumb.

    If this pastor and his flock wanna commit promiscuous infection on each other, go to it. If they wanna stick their tongues down each other’s throats in the name of Jesus, go to it. Just leave the rest of us out of it.

    (Incidentally, Charles Darwin himself will be proud of you clowns for allowing his basic principles to advance the development of the human race)

    My own church (which will go unnamed, thank you very much) has had the sense to put its offerings totally online, for the time being. I agree totally with this wise decision.

    Don’t be grounded when the Rapture comes. In the meantime, we will pray for you.

    Larry Gillis, Cape Coral

    • Ron Williams

      April 3, 2020 at 9:58 am

      Unfortunately they will infect the rest of us, other than that, if they wanted to kill each other I’d be fine with it.

      • Calvin Velander

        April 8, 2020 at 8:43 am

        And the Lord said…”Let them gather at the altar of ignorance and commune with one another. They shall, genuflect, kiss, hug, keen and infect like minded brother and sister Sheeples; their stupidity a lesson for all humankind gaze upon and behold. And so they shall pass, leaving the universe a better place, allowed to flourish, without their nescience polluting the gene pool.

        Morons 4:08

  • Ward Posey

    April 2, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    If I or any member of my family contract Coronovirus from one of these numbskulls coming back from a cult (religious) service. I will take revenge on the State and DeSantis personally in the form of a mega law suit.

  • Danie

    April 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    They say in the end time Christians will be persecuted … this is one way to do it. 😔. Very sad. 😔

    • Unchurched

      April 12, 2020 at 6:09 am

      These people should wear a religious symbol on their collar, so the rest of us can exercise OUR FREEDOM to avoid irresponsible people.
      Also, medical care providers suffer no obligation to treat those who recklessly put themselves in harm’s way. Let them faith heal.

    • Holy, Holy, Holy

      April 12, 2020 at 9:52 am

      You’re nuts, lady. You don’t have the right to endanger others with your mysticism. Pray the hell at home.

  • Unbelievable

    April 2, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Keep believing in the fairytales about your imaginary friends. You’ll end up in “a better place.” Just make sure it is not near me.

  • Cindy

    April 2, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    This is crazy, what are you thinking!!!! Not only that he has almost every business can be working except restaurants.. what happened to “nonessential’ business, why would a contractors, freeway, tradesmen and manufacturing be an essential if there not directly related to fighting this virus… bad decision DeSantis!!!

  • Sonja Fitch

    April 2, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Sue desantis for deliberate indifference. Legal term. Step up Morgan and Morgan

  • Amie Devero

    April 2, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Why does Desantis want to accelerate the death and infection rate in Tampa? Most irresponsible move — and one obviously driven by shameless pandering to the religious right lobby.

  • Christopher Kennard

    April 2, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    I believe that Ron DeSantis ought to be impeached for not shutting the State of Florida down, thereby putting the people of Florida in grave danger, by knowingly ignoring a multitude of medical authorities whose clear warnings of dire consequences leading to the illness and death of many became “politicized” by Donald Trump, acting in concert with DeSantis, with complete and total disregard of the health, safety and wellbeing of the great majority of all Floridians.

    This is the same team, DeSantis and Trump, who shares the friendship and potential criminal connections with East Europeans and Russians involved in the conspiracy of covering up the 2016 election fraud, interference, secret “political purpose” slush funds and large campaign cash donations given to crooked politicians.

    They all outta be in jail for a long time to come!!!

  • Glenn Reihing

    April 2, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    As a 30 yr ER nurse who has been in the mess with flu epidemic (I’m retired now…whew!!), let me just say this.

    There is irresponsibility to go around. First, Gov. DeSantis for not having the backbone needed to stop people congregating in large groups. He needs to include all types of meetings as non-essential.

    Now, he can’t throw these people in jail, but what I would suggest is that he follows Taiwan or South Korea’s lead and impose heavy fines on people by tracking their whereabouts via their cell phone.

    You would make it a law that your cell phone is considered you so this prevents people from saying “Well I let So and so borrow it.” So if the cell phone shows up at a restricted event, you are on the hook.

    South Korea’s fine can be as much as $2500.00. Use that money to help pay for the cost of patients that have no health insurance.

    The other thing is now these people are now at risk of being either carriers (those who have the virus but do not have symptoms) or someone who actually comes down with the disease. Either of these groups have now put their family at risk.

    If you use an ambulance to go to the hospital because you developed Covid, the EMS crew and their family is now at risk because of you exposing them.

    The healthcare team that is going to take care of you at the hospital is now at risk. And if you are intubated, when they put that tube down into your throat, they have just aerosolized the virus which sits in your lungs making the procedure a higher risk event to these healthcare workers as opposed to just putting you on oxygen.

    So in your arrogance of showing how much you love Jesus, added to Gov. DeSantis’s inability to put his foot down, will make what may have been a significant health event in this State potentially much worse. Thanks a friggin’ lot!!!


      April 2, 2020 at 3:35 pm

      That is one of the saddest parts about this. Any increased risk of spread directly affects our first responders. You are already risking your lives in the healthcare field, police, fire fighters, paramedics, etc and the governor is willing to elevate that risk. I want him out of office! He has made too many unforgivable moves.

  • Nancy E Dinucci

    April 2, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    He must want people to die. Including the people that want to protect themselves and doing the right thing. Even these church people are looking for guidance. If they are told by the government it is OK, then they are going to assume it is OK. They are going to risk their entire family and bring them to a large group gathering. It is very likely that some of these people will die and that they will be spreading the disease further when they go to grocery stores, etc. Is there some special shining light around these people that protects them when they attend church? I don’t get it.

  • Michael O'Rourke

    April 2, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    I don’t know why the mega churches are allow to keep gathering in large numbers, unless it is a financial issue for the pastor. Then that would explain a lot.

  • Ruth

    April 2, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Allowing churches to still meet is totally assinine!! Don’t they get it! They can do their services online.

  • Johny "Reb' seber Trump

    April 2, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    I believe in God, but, I think it is wrong to allow so many people so close together.

  • Thomas Knapp

    April 4, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    It’s amazing how many Kim Jong Un wannabes this virus is bringing out of the woodwork.

    And how poorly they spell.

  • Dennis Carrier

    April 5, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Madness. Covid-19 is almost certainly the most contagious virus science has ever seen. First there is reported research that the virus remains 50% viable as an airborne contagion 3 hours after some one coughes or sneezes in an enclosed area. Now the latest research is saying that someone can give it to you just by breathing near you. It comes out of your lungs like the alcohol plume from people who have been drinking booze. I say step on their constitutional rights and let them go to court over it later. But when we have Governors encouraging this idiotic behavior it makes it difficult to enforce a sane response to a dangerous global pandemic. DeSantis is irresponsible and reckless. When the virus tears through a congregation they’ll quickly change their behavior. And this young Governor will end up looking like a fool.

  • Thomas Knapp

    April 5, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    “In my imagination, Covid-19 is almost certainly the most contagious virus science has ever seen.”

    Fixed, no charge.

  • Barbara

    April 11, 2020 at 8:33 am

    The Governor is committing a criminal act. He is sanctioning large groups of people to congregate together during a pandemic. Knowingly causing spread of a deadly disease by ones actions should be punishable and he should be removed from office now!

Comments are closed.


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