This evening, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley church in Nevada, which claimed the state’s laws treated them differently from casinos and restaurants — and unconstitutionally so.
The church said the other businesses were permitted to reopen at 50% capacity while religious institutions like theirs had a 50-person maximum no matter how large they were. This particular church wanted to host services with 90 members — 50% of their capacity — while taking all reasonable precautions regarding social distancing and face masks. But Governor Steve Sisolak‘s orders wouldn’t permit it.
They sued. They lost. They appealed. They lost. They appealed again. And now they’ve lost again.
A 5-4 Supreme Court majority — with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberals — simply denied the challenge without explanation (which they can do since this was an emergency motion). The other justices issued three separate dissents, claiming religious institutions could not be singled out for special treatment.
So was this hypocrisy?
Not necessarily. Nevada officials said they had far more control over casinos and restaurants, and required them to provide “detailed reopening plans for review and approval,” meaning they could issue fines (or more) if COVID precautions were ignored. Furthermore, it’s not like all secular institutions were allowed to host more people — only certain ones. Museums and zoos, for example, are under similar or stricter restrictions than churches. The state also added that there were no limits for attendance if worship services were held outdoors (all other precautions considered), which is a rule that they did not extend to museums or zoos.
But the dissenters said the churches were being treated unfairly. Justice Neil Gorsuch said very simply, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion.”
Or maybe it’s an apples to oranges comparison. The church wants to be compared to secular institutions even though the state can only force specific rules and regulations upon the latter. The church should be grateful for that. Who wants the government intruding on worship services and overseeing how churches operate? All they had to do was follow the 50-person capacity rule and they’d be free to do whatever else they’d like.
This was never about religion. The church can livestream sermons (which it does). It can host multiple services (which it does). There’s no religious need for them to pack people into the building. Yet they acted like they were being persecuted. Thank goodness the Supreme Court didn’t fall for it.
(Image via Shutterstock)