The United States Supreme Court has rejected a request for temporary relief from a Nevada Church that sued Governor Steve Sisolak, D, for permitting casinos to operate at 50% of their building capacity, but only allowing churches to reopen with a limit of 50 people.
The church, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, sued Gov. Sisolak and asked the Supreme Court for an injunction that would have given them relief from the governor’s order while the lawsuit played out in the lower courts.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the 5-4 decision denying the church’s request. Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh all wrote separate dissenting opinions. Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh joined Justice Alito’s 11-page dissent.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities,” Justice Alito wrote.
“That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing.”
Justice Gorsuch’s dissenting opinion touted that case as “simple.”
“Under the Governor’s edict, a 10-screen ‘multiplex’ may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once… But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting more than 50 worshippers — no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear face masks, no matter the precautions at all,” Justice Gorsuch decried.
“In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion… There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Justice Kavanaugh agreed, writing, “In my view, Nevada’s discrimination against religious services violates the Constitution.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) brought the lawsuit on behalf of Calvary Chapel. “The First Amendment requires the government to treat religious organizations, at a minimum, the same as comparable secular organizations,” ADF said in a statement following the setback at the Supreme Court. “While we are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court denied our request for relief, we will continue to seek to protect Calvary Chapel and other churches from discriminatory policies that put religious groups at the back of the line for reopening.”
On May 29, the Supreme Court also denied a request from South Bay United Pentecostal Church that was suing Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., for only permitting churches to reopen at 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever was lower.
“Absent a compelling justification (which the State has not offered), the State may not take a looser approach with, say, supermarkets, restaurants, factories, and offices while imposing stricter requirements on places of worship,” Justice Kavanaugh penned.
This case with Calvary Chapel makes clear, for a second time, that a majority of the Supreme Court is not apt to defend religious liberty against unconstitutional and discriminatory actions by state governments in the COVID era.
This unfortunate reality leaves churches in a tough spot: either abide by harmful government edits which continue to hamper ministry or disobey the government to better care for the spiritual needs of their congregants.
For Grace Community Church and Pastor John MacArthur, the Biblical case for remaining open is clear.
“We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings,” the elders of Grace Community wrote in a letter to their faithful. This past Sunday, Grace Community remained open for public indoor worship despite Gov. Newsom’s order.
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