Nevadan group spends Easter protesting church service ban aimed at curbing COVID-19 spread

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In this time of coronavirus, churches are having to rethink their Easter celebrations by offering ways to donate and worship online. It’s a troubling transition for some congregations who lack technology and digital experience. (April 10) AP Domestic

A group of about two dozen Northern Nevadans spent their Easter Sunday afternoon hopping from one Walmart parking lot to the next in protest. 

The main concern of the protesters was Gov. Steve Sisolak’s recent order banning church gatherings of more than 10 people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Restricting the movements of sick people is quarantine; restricting the movements of healthy people is called tyranny,” said Bruce Parks, one of the protest organizers. 

Parks was particularly upset that his church was unable to have a drive-in service where the congregation would gather in cars in a lot and listen to the sermon over the radio. 

“This is still America. We still have our rights,” said Parks. “This is the kind of impromptu response you get from citizens who are concerned with their rights.”

Protesting coronavirus restrictions

In announcing the new restrictions, Sisolak acknowledged that in practical terms, it meant most formal religious services wouldn’t be allowed under the new rules.

He said the decision to go ahead with the restrictions came after reading about outbreaks of dozens of new infections in other states that were traced back to specific services.

“I know that if we allow these services to continue as usual, we will see a spike in cases in Nevada,” Sisolak said Wednesday. “Clusters will appear where people congregate.”

The protesters, who were from a variety of religious and conservative groups, gathered Sunday at two Walmart parking lots in Reno and traveled south to Carson City. Some wore masks and some kept a distance from each other.

Easter and church: Nevada churches mostly taking Easter online; some plan to gather

In a loosely organized caravan, the protesters flashed their lights and waved American flags from their vehicles along the way, and parked near the back of the lots. They spoke among each other as they stood in the sun, and a few waited in the cars until they drove to the next destination. 

Parks, who wore President Donald Trump apparel along with several other protesters, said the group received many honking horns and thumbs up along their route. 

“We’re all just citizens and taxpayers,” said Jeff Church, one of the protesters. He said it won’t be the last time they gather to protest. 

Word of the protest started with one church and a notice was spread by a conservative-minded organization, Nevada Families for Freedom, according to Parks. 

While some of the group said they respected certain state’s measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, others seemed to flout and deeply resent the recent orders from state officials. 

‘We’re concerned with government overreach’

One woman said she’d done “enough social distancing,” and one masked man said that this was the beginning of the second Civil War, though he did not expand on what that meant exactly. 

“I read the other day that a meeting like this, with more than 10 people, is a privilege,” said protester Victoria Myer. “We’re concerned with government overreach.”

While most Northern Nevada churches complied with the government’s recent order to halt all large, in-person gatherings, the group that assembled Sunday was not alone in its discontent with recent government orders. 

Several churches statewide stated earlier this week that they would have services on Sunday; others canceled drive-in services and took their sermons online. 

Coronavirus:  Faith leaders ‘bend the rules,’ use tech, ponder rituals of prayer, death

Protesters said that they were tired of representatives taking unconstitutional actions and disregarding American’s fundamental rights. 

“I would encourage people to read and research as much as they can,” said Myer. “Let’s read what’s really going on.”

Meanwhile, local, state and federal officials continue to report increases in the number of COVID-19 cases. 

On Sunday, Washoe County reported its 12th death related to the coronavirus — a man in his 90s —  as well as an additional 46 cases and two recoveries. 

There have been a total of 461 positive cases reported in Washoe County, and there were 388 active cases as of Sunday, according to the Regional Information Center.  Sixty-one people have recovered in the county. 

State and local officials have reiterated that there are likely undocumented cases in the county since it’s unlikely everyone with the virus has been tested. 

Jenny Kane covers arts and culture in Northern Nevada, as well as the dynamic relationship between the state and the growing Burning Man community. She also covers the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry (Check out her podcast, the Potcast, on iTunes.) Support her work in Reno by subscribing to RGJ.com right here

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