By Lawrence Hurley
When an evangelical Christian pastor was arrested in Florida for flouting a stay-at-home order aimed at curbing the new coronavirus, a conservative religious liberty group was quick to leap to his defense.
But the decision by Liberty Counsel to represent Rodney Howard-Browne, co-founder of The River at Tampa Bay Church, marks a split among religious liberty advocates, with others preaching caution on going to court in the midst of a global pandemic.
Other groups, including Alliance Defending Freedom and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have so far held their fire, saying states have strong interest in protecting public health as long as the government action is limited in time and scope, even as Sunday’s Easter holiday approaches.
Howard-Browne, who was arrested on March 30 after being accused of presiding over two services attended by hundreds of parishioners, is himself something of an outlier as most houses of worship have closed their doors in the interests of public health.
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