When the virus first struck, government health advice was clear: do not gather in large groups. Yet, leaders from all religions ignored this advice. Instead, encouraging their followers to attend large-scale religious ceremonies, prayer groups and services. The results speak for themselves. Even now, in the midst of the crisis, places of worship have refused to close their doors - with many suggesting the real motive is profit or fame. On 28 March 2020, Florida pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, announced: "this should be a time of supernatural sustenance, where what you have in your hand will multiply...And every day there will be multiplications," he continued. "You look at your toilet paper and you think I'm going to run out of toilet paper, but you have another roll where that one was and you don't know how did that even take place." When pressed for comment by Newsweek journalist Christina Zao, Howard-Browne refused to back down. Insisting his congregation would flout lockdown regulations until they were shut down:""We are not stopping anything," he said. "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...This Bible school is open because we're raising up revivalists, not pansies".
At a time when reliable and accurate public information have never been more important, propagating false information is extremely dangerous. This is no more true than in the case of public gatherings, when just occupying the same space as someone else could leave you dead. Religious leaders that refuse to shut their places of worship down, or stop their sermons, will ultimately be responsible for the deaths of their adherents. As more information about the virus becomes available, and public understanding of this crushing disease grows, faith in these leaders will disappear. In several cases, such as that of Howard-Browne, past outrageous statements have only increased their followings. Journalist Fionnuala O'Leary notes that "Howard-Browne has made bizarre statements in the past like threatening to "beat the crap out of" John Bolton, Trump's former national security advisor."
Several studies show that in times of crisis, faith in the existence of God grows. The existence of a vocal minority of religious leaders refusing to adhere to the law does not change this. Importantly, the government are taking strict action against these individuals to ensure this behaviour does not become widespread. On 31 March 2020 Howard-Browne was hit with a stay-at-home order by Hillsborough County police.