The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday denied a Nevada church’s attempt to have the state’s 50-person limit on attendance ruled unconstitutional. In a divided decision, the court ruled 5-4 against Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley’s insistence that places of worship be considered on the same rules as casinos and restaurants.
As part of its ongoing attempts to reopen amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada allows these businesses to operate at 50% of their standard maximum capacity with proper social distancing rules in place. Calvary Chapel’s challenge claimed that the different standards placed on churches violated its members’ rights to freedom of expression and worship.
The liberal wing of the court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, led the majority vote to deny this challenge. They did not offer a written explanation of their decision.
“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,” dissenting Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a statement, co-signed 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. 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.”
“But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his own dissent.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley is located in Dayton, Nevada, roughly 40 miles southeast of casino-hub, Reno. In June, it appealed an earlier ruling in favor of the state’s policy by a Nevada judge with the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals.
Nevada has been amongst the over 40 states to see a major resurgence in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. According to Johns Hopkins University, the state has seen nearly 41,000 confirmed cases and 722 deaths.