A cease-and-desist demand by a Temecula-based attorney on behalf of people of varying faiths calls upon Riverside County to allow for Easter services during the coronavirus pandemic — albeit with social distancing in mind.

But a countywide order that aims to slow COVID-19 spread prohibits all gatherings, including religious services — indoors and outside — in any setting..

An amendment to existing county orders, that would allow for religious gatherings while adhering to social distancing, is what his clients seek, said attorney Kevin M. McGuire. What those gatherings would look like is not set in stone, he explained.

“I leave that up to the county,” McGuire said. A drive-up service, or some other scenario that follows proper social distancing guidelines, could work, according to the attorney.

“They aren’t the kind of people who would hold services come hell or high water. They want to keep the community safe,” he said.

McGuire’s cease-and-desist demand was sent to the county late Wednesday afternoon. As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, there has been no county response, he said.

In an emailed response to Patch, Riverside County spokesperson Brooke Federico said, “The public health officer order does not allow for any in-person services, including drive up services.”

McGuire did not name his clients nor their religious affiliations, but in the demand letter he said they are “from a wide swath of religious faiths, denominations and churches within the Temecula Valley (Murrieta, Temecula, Menifee and Winchester) … .”

Calling the county orders “grotesquely unconstitutional,” McGuire said they will have a “grave, lasting, harmful threat, as a seeming precedent, to the established liberties of all Californians in the future.”

“At stake is nothing less than the very religious freedoms and constitutional protections our founding fathers fought to secure so that we as Americans might have them now, in such
circumstances and times as these,” the demand letter states.

McGuire argues that the county “did not even attempt” to craft a “least restrictive option” for the faithful.

He used drive-up food takeout as an example. Restaurants are allowed to remain open countywide, but may only offer drive-thru and takeout services.

“To ban the transmission of wafers but not tacos is glaringly ludicrous and discriminatory,” the demand letter reads. “Why couldn’t, shouldn’t the same or similar protocols be developed or implemented for drive-thru confession for those in the Roman Catholic faith? Why shouldn’t the same protocols be applied to allow outdoor religious services, if social distancing is observed or if nobody gets out of their cars, in parking lots, fields or yes, even re-purposed drive-in movie theaters? What’s the difference? There is none….”

Ahead of Good Friday and Easter, Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino also called on Catholic followers to heed the county order. In video messages shared with Riverside University Health System, the bishop spoke in English and Spanish.

“As painful as it is for us, let us follow this directive,” the bishop said. “Let us see it as an act of love and of sacrifice for all our brothers and sisters, and a sign of our reverence for human life.”

The above comes from an April 9 story by Gus Saltonstall on Patch.