Andrew Warren, the Florida State Attorney suspended by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, quoted a passage of the Bible in March 2020 to justify his support for charging a pastor who held church services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a press conference in 2020, the Hillsborough County attorney read a passage from Mark 12:31 to justify an arrest warrant issued against Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne for holding two church services at the River at Tampa Bay County Church.
“[To] put parishioners at risk in a time of an emergency like this is not only reckless, but it’s illegal,” Warren said during the press conference. “But where people are refusing to obey law enforcement in this regard, you risk being arrested and prosecuted. I’d like to note that [I] think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here is hiding behind the First Amendment. One, it’s absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid.”
“Lastly, I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which says there’s ‘no more important command than to love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus,” Warren continued.
In May, prosecutors dropped the charges against Howard-Browne, who had initially been charged with unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during the height of the pandemic, the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2020. In a statement, Warren said the pastor’s arrest was still “an appropriate step taken by law enforcement to immediately correct irresponsible behavior after repeated efforts to gain cooperation in other ways were not successful.”
DeSantis suspended Warren on Thursday for refusing to enforce a number of state laws, including the state’s 15-week abortion ban and prohibition of sex change operations for minors. (RELATED: ‘The Most Basic Subversion Of Democracy’: Tucker Cheers DeSantis For Sacking Soros-Based Prosecutor)
“Warren demonstrated his incompetence and willful defiance of his duties as a state attorney as early as June 2021, when he signed a ‘Joint Statement’ with other elected prosecutors in support of gender-transition treatment for children and bathroom usage based on gender identity,” DeSantis said in an order.
At Thursday’s press conference, former Tampa Bay police chief Brian Dugan said Warren overstepped his power after announcing his intention to expunge the arrests of 67 people participating in a Black Lives Matter riot.
“[Warren] says that there were no acts of violence, no property damage. He must not have read the police report. There were pictures of a police car with broken windshields. As the cops tried to get out of the cars, protesters pushed their doors shut on them and wouldn’t allow them out of the cars,” Dugan said Thursday. “Those 67 people that got arrested, Andrew Warren said in his press conference that he would work with local law enforcement to expunge those arrests,” he added.
“He does not have the ability to do an administrative expungement on those arrests,” Dugan continued. “[Do] you know how many articles have been written about how he expunged those arrests? How would you like to be one of those 67 people that got arrested and you think that that arrest has been expunged. Ask Andrew Warren how many of those expungements he did, and the answer will be zero. Not a single arrest has been expunged. He has misled our community.”
Churches across the country were ordered to shut down in 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19. In December 2020, the Supreme Court ruled against Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on worship in response to Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries arguing the state’s restrictions are a violation of the First Amendment.