DeSantis order relaxes rules for churches, freeing megachurch pastor to resume services

The River at Tampa Bay Church's pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, might be in front of his congregation this Sunday after all. 

UPDATE: DeSantis clarifies executive order, confusing how local governments manage 'stay at home' orders

The pastor canceled his upcoming in-person services after being arrested for hosting hundreds inside his megachurch despite a Hillsborough County "safer at home" social distancing order, banning gatherings of 10 or more to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But Governor Ron DeSantis issued his own, statewide order Wednesday, which says the rules will be different for places of worship. Under his new order, church services are considered "essential" and there is no clear indication social distancing rules must be followed.

This new executive order is giving leaders at the local level whiplash.

READ: Governor DeSantis issues 'stay-at-home' order for Florida

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren called the governor's order "weak" and accused the governor of playing politics with people's lives.

“Frankly, I’m angry. It looks like the governor is putting his political ambitions above the lives and health of healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, and the entire state of Florida," Warren said, adding that the governor is sending mixed messages, resulting in confusion across the state. 

RELATED: Model suggests Florida COVID-19 cases will peak in early May

Tuesday, DeSantis made the "safer at home" order, he issued a different policy, allowing counties and cities to supersede his directive, especially if the rules were stricter. 

Wednesday's order says that's not the case.

"Here we have one decision that was made and five hours later it was completely flip-flopped,” said a frustrated Warren.

Warren says the charges filed against Howard-Browne for violating the order that was in place last Sunday still stand.

Howard-Brown says his constitutional rights were violated and plans to fight the charges in federal court.