In a 5-4 decision on Friday, the Supreme Court denied a Nevada church’s request to be exempt from the state’s 50-person cap on gatherings.
Christianity Today reports that Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley contended that it should be able to meet at 50 percent capacity like casinos and restaurants as long as they impose social distancing guidelines.
The church argued that restricting meeting sizes to 50 people was a violation of their first amendment right of religious freedom.
But the liberal majority, alongside Chief Justice Roberts denied Calvary Chapel’s request without any further comment.
In a dissenting opinion from three of the four justices who voted in favor of the church’s request, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh insisted that they would have issued an injunctive relief while the court fleshed out the case.
“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,” the statement read.
“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,” Alito wrote.
“In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion,” Gorsuch added.
“The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Representing the church was David Cortman, senior counsel for Georgia-based Alliance Defending Freedom. According to Christianity Today, Cortman expressed disappointment over the Supreme Court’s ruling in an email to the Associated Press on Friday.
“When the government treats churches worse than casinos, gyms, and indoor amusement parks in its COVID-19 response, it clearly violates the Constitution,” he wrote.
Pastor Garry Leist who leads Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, offered a word of encouragement to his church following the ruling.
“We've been in this fight, because God calls us to be,” Leist said in a Facebook video. “We’ve been continuing in the process at His direction, and for His honor, and for His glory.”
“In that, we are completely in the place where He would have us to be,” he added. “So don’t lose heart, don’t be despaired, don’t be discouraged, don’t give up hope because the things that we’re doing carry a greater, eternal weight.”
Photo courtesy: James Walsh/Unsplash
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.