- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2020

The Supreme Court refused Friday to halt Nevada’s ban on no more than 50 people at church services, with four of the high court’s GOP-appointed justices dissenting, saying the state is violating the Constitution.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm, represented Calvary Chapel in its legal battle against the state of Nevada, asking the justices to issue an injunction against the governor’s ban on churches having services with more than 50 people.

The governor — like other state leaders — made various orders about church services and capacity limits at businesses in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the wake of the pandemic.

But the church argued in court papers it “only seeks to host about 90 people at a socially-distanced church service, while the Governor allows hundreds to thousands of people to gamble and enjoy entertainment at casinos.”

The court’s liberal wing, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., allowed the governor’s order to remain in place.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, disagreed with the court’s decision, saying the state’s ban on church services appears to violate the Constitution, noting casinos in Nevada are allowed to have customers at half capacity — in some cases that means thousands of gamblers in one space.

“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities,” Justice Alito wrote.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch also dissented, saying the governor’s move is discriminatory under the First Amendment.

“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. 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,” he wrote.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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