Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices on the Supreme Court in a rule 5-4 against a Nevada church, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, released Friday night. Calvary Chapel sought to have the same standards of occupancy that casinos have under Nevada pandemic rules mandated by Governor Steve Sisolak that limit houses of worship to 50 people regardless of size, compared to casinos and restaurants that have higher limits set at fifty percent of capacity.
No supporting opinion was released by the Court, just the decision: “The application for injunctive relief presented to JUSTICE KAGAN and by her referred to the Court is denied.”
Three of the four dissenting justices wrote opinions, with the one by Justice Neil Gorsuch being short and sharp:
JUSTICE GORSUCH, dissenting from denial of application for injunctive relief.
This is a simple case. Under the Governor’s edict, a 10-screen “multiplex” may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps six people huddled at each craps table here and a similar number gathered around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting more than 50 worshippers—no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear face masks, no matter the precautions at all. 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.
All three dissents, by Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, can be read at the Supreme Court website.
Conservative Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) blasted Roberts:
“John Roberts has abandoned his oath. But, on the upside, maybe Nevada churches should set up craps tables? Then they could open?”
John Roberts has abandoned his oath.
But, on the upside, maybe Nevada churches should set up craps tables? Then they could open? https://t.co/6pWoOwg9ts
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 25, 2020
“Freedom of religion is our first freedom. Yet SCOTUS has ruled that casinos can host hundreds of gamblers, while churches cannot welcome their full congregations. Justice Roberts once again got it wrong, shamefully closing church doors to their flocks.”
Freedom of religion is our first freedom. Yet SCOTUS has ruled that casinos can host hundreds of gamblers, while churches cannot welcome their full congregations. Justice Roberts once again got it wrong, shamefully closing church doors to their flocks. https://t.co/rFkCx0L8Zu
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) July 25, 2020
The Hill reported Roberts voted with the Court’s liberal bloc in May in a similar case in California that limited churches to 25% occupancy. Roberts then said the rules were being applied equally.
“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote.
“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” he wrote.