The United States Supreme Court said on Friday it would not block the state of Nevada from limiting the number of worshippers in churches to 50 while larger groups can gather at casinos and other venues.
The high court announced the 5-4 decision against Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, with Chief Justice John Roberts once again joining the liberal judges.
Politico reported on the case, which the church claimed is the state infringing on its First Amendment rights:
The church had argued the cap was an unfair attack on its First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. It pointed out that the state allowed higher caps for restaurants and casinos — 50 percent capacity — but would not let its 90-person congregation assemble, even with social distancing protocols. A federal court upheld the state’s policy, and the church sought an appeal last month at the 9th Circuit.
The Supreme Court’s decision was issued without comment. But in his June decision against the church, U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware wrote that other secular institutes that partake in activities similar to a house of worship are also restricted. Other venues with congregating audiences — such as museums, movie theaters and concert venues — are subject to similar or stricter restrictions, he wrote.
“It is not enough for Calvary to demonstrate that the directive is intermittently not being enforced against secular activities,” Boulware wrote in his decision. “Calvary must also demonstrate that Defendants are only enforcing the directive against places of worship.”
The conservative judges — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch, who dissented, slammed the state’s restrictions, put in place by Democrat governor Steve Sisolak.
The “Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,”Alito wrote in his dissent, but it “says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack.”
“The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges,” Gorsuch wrote. “But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
This isn’t the first time the court — and Roberts — have ruled against Americans’ right to assembly and religious freedom. Politico reported:
The Supreme Court in May struck down a plea from a San Diego church that California’s lockdown order was inhibiting its right to free religion. That decision also fell narrowly along ideological lines, with Roberts siding with the liberal faction. Roberts argued against the court intervening in states’ responses to a public health crisis.
“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement,” Roberts wrote at the time.
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