Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Nevada asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the state’s 50-person limit on church gatherings, contending that the restriction violated the congregant’s First Amendment freedom of speech and religion.
The state allows businesses like casinos and restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity. Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Calvary, posted a video that shows a crowded casino with more than 50 people. Some people are wearing masks, but there is no social distancing.
Nevada also allows close-contact businesses like hair salons and barbershops to re-open at 50 percent capacity.
Despite the disparate treatment, however, the high court ruled against the church in a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the liberal justices. Time reported that three justices wrote separate dissents. They believe the court should have issued an injunction against the state’s order while the case was pending.
“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 Samuel Alito wrote in a dissent joined by Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
“We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility,” Alito said. “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine or to engage in any other game of chance.”
According to Time, the chief justice offered no explanation why he ruled against Calvary.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who drew conservatives’ ire when he sided with liberal justices (along with Chief Justice Roberts) in a “transgender” employment case, wrote in his dissent that “there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”