When Nevada began re-opening after the COVID-19 shutdown, Governor Steve Sisolak allowed businesses, including close-contact business like hair salons and barbershops, to re-open at 50 percent capacity.
But churches were limited to 50 people, even those with a capacity of hundreds.
The Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley asked the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year to strike down this limit. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Calvary Chapel, posted a video that shows a crowded casino with more than 50 people. Some are wearing masks, but there is no social distancing.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court rejected the church’s request. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the liberal justices. Three of the justices wrote separate dissents. They believe the court should have issued an injunction against the state’s order while the case was pending. In his dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that “there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Gov. Sisolak has raised church gatherings from 50 to 250 people, but Calvary Chapel believes churches are still being treated differently and has appealed to the Supreme Court again while litigation is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The church might have a better chance of winning the case with Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the bench.
“Time is of the essence,” the petition ADF attorneys filed with the Supreme Court in Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak explains. “If the petition is not resolved by the end of the 2020 Term, churches and worshippers will continue to endure unconstitutional orders like Governor Sisolak’s for a minimum of 15-18 months. That is why Calvary Chapel has filed this petition under Rule 11, before receiving a merits ruling from the Ninth Circuit.”
As the ADF petition states, the most recent version of Sisolak’s executive order “allows even more secular venues, such as museums, art galleries, zoos, and aquariums, to assemble at 50% fire-code capacity with no hard cap. And it allows convention centers to host four times as many attendees—up to 1,000—as churches. So the Governor’s preference for secular entities over religious entities remains. What’s more, the Governor is free to go back to the previous [even harsher] order at any time.”