"Frankly, I don't think the government has the authority at all to limit the number of people at a church, other than zoning based upon how many people can fit in a particular building," he added. "They don't have the authority to tell people that the form of worship has to be online."
Staver said that he believed churches would be willing to take steps to ensure the safety of their congregations, such as limiting the capacity of the building and requiring people to spread apart from each other, but they were not given the chance to do so under this policy.
Most public religious services were suspended following the outbreak of COVID-19 nationwide, and are just beginning to resume.
In the Diocese of Las Cruces, Bishop Peter Baldacchino was the first to announce that public celebration of Mass would return, albeit in line with the governor's directives.
Baldacchino's April 15 to his diocese letter noted that the state of New Mexico recently updated its Public Health Order, which no longer includes churches as "essential services."
"I strongly disagree," he said. "Sadly, the Governor is no longer exempting places of worship from the restrictions on 'mass gatherings.' It seems to me that while we run a daily count of the physical deaths we are overlooking those who are dead interiorly."
To comply with the governor's directive, guidelines issued to all priests limit attendance at Mass in church buildings to 5 people, including the celebrant, and insist that a minimum safe distance of six feet be observed and all seating sanitized after Mass ends.
Baldacchino also authorized priests to celebrate Mass outdoors, in compliance with state guidance on social distancing, and specifically recommended setting up an altar in the parish parking lot with parishioners remaining in their cars with an empty space between each vehicle.
Officials for Chincoteague Island, where Lighthouse Fellowship Church is located, were unable to tell CNA if there are any coronavirus cases on the island. The most recent press release from the town, dated April 15, said there were 19 cases identified on Virginia's eastern shore.
Data from Virginia shows that there have been fewer than 150 confirmed coronavirus cases in Accomack County, where Chincoteague is located.