As more states begin to re-open as the country eases COVID-19 restrictions, states are facing the consequences of treating houses of worship differently than secular organizations.
On Tuesday, June 15, California ends the mask mandate for people who’ve received a vaccine and lifts capacity limits and social distancing requirements for most businesses and activities.
California and other states and local governments restricted church attendance and worship services, citing slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Houses of worship have sued over these restrictions. A court last month permanently blocked California from issuing or enforcing any capacity or numerical restrictions on religious worship services, and Harvest Rock Baptist Church and the ministry settled their case. California must pay $1.3 million in reimbursed attorney’s fees.
Nevada’s governor allowed restaurants and stores to operate at 50 percent capacity, but churches were restricted to gatherings of no more than 10 during the state’s COVID-19 re-opening. The state even allowed close-contact businesses like hair salons and barbershops to re-open at 50 percent capacity. After the U.S. Department of Justice sent the governor a letter criticizing him for treating churches unfairly, he modified the restriction, raising the number of congregants to 50 people.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley sued the state over these restrictions, and in a settlement agreement, the state must pay. From the Christian Post:
The Nevada Board of Examiners unanimously approved a request on Tuesday morning from the Office of the Attorney General to pay a tort claim to Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley.
Susan Brown, chief of the Board, explained at the meeting that the $175,000 payment was “to comply with the consent decree in this case that requires the state of Nevada to pay a reasonable attorney fees,” adding that “this cost will come out of the tort claim fund.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the Calvary Chapel, had released a video of a crowded casino in Nevada at the same time churches faced severe restrictions. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who dissented along with the other conservative justices who refused to hear the case, wrote that “there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”