The United States Supreme Court has rejected the request of a Nevada church to halt an extremely discriminatory COVID-19 measure. The case, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, was a 5-4 decision.
The Nevada edict places a 50-person cap on church services, regardless of the size of the church building, but places a 50 percent cap on casinos, bars, movie theaters, and other businesses.
For perspective, a casino with a maximum building occupancy of 1,000 is capped at 500. But a church with the same maximum building capacity is capped at 50. There were no typos there. The edict is literally that bad.
Once again, Chief Justice Roberts joined The Court’s left wing – without comment.
But conservative Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Alito were not going to dissent quietly.
The justices recognized a state’s authority to implement restrictive measures in general but slammed the disproportionate means of the Nevada edict.
“In my view, Nevada’s discrimination against religious services violates the Constitution. To be clear, a State’s closing or reopening plan may subject religious organizations to the same limits as secular organizations. And in light of the devastating COVID–19 pandemic, those limits may be very strict.
But a State may not impose strict limits on places of worship and looser limits on restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms, at least without sufficient justification for the differential treatment of religion. As I will explain, Nevada has thus far failed to provide a sufficient justification, and its current reopening plan therefore violates the First Amendment.”
“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, with perhaps six people huddled at each craps table here and a similar number gathered around every roulette wheel there.
Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. 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.
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. The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
“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. Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services.
A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy— and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed. 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. We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility.”
Technicality: This case was a response to a request for injunctive relief, which means The Court was asked to temporarily pause the Nevada edict from going into effect while the lower courts review its constitutionality.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the case and it may return to the Supreme Court for review on the merits.