Nevada can’t restrict churches more than casinos for COVID, Ninth Circuit rules
December 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Nevada cannot impose on churches greater public health restrictions than those applied to secular businesses, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a victory for religious Nevadans.
As previously covered by LifeSiteNews, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley vs. Sisolak concerns a case made by Calvary Chapel, an evangelical church, that Nevada is unlawfully discriminating against houses of worship by allowing a number of public facilities, including casinos, to fill with crowds to 50 percent capacity while restricting religious gatherings to 50 people, no matter how large the building. In Calvary’s case, 50 percent capacity would be 90 people.
This summer, the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 against taking the case, letting the restrictions stand. But a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously sided with the church on Tuesday, Courthouse News reports. In reaching their decision, the judges relied on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last month in favor of Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn against similar capacity limits imposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Just like the New York restrictions, the directive treats numerous secular activities and entities significantly better than religious worship services,” US Circuit Judge Milan Smith wrote. “Though slowing the spread of Covid-19 is a compelling interest, the directive is not narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”
“There is no constitutional right to gamble, but there is one that protects attending worship services,” said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney David Cortman. “Today, the Ninth Circuit made clear that, at a minimum, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley can’t be treated more harshly than Nevada’s casinos, bowling alleys, retail businesses, restaurants, and arcades. Such disparate treatment is both illogical and unconstitutional.”
This victory for religious Nevadans follows recent victories in Colorado and New Jersey, which were also enabled by the Supreme Court’s New York decision. The Court’s more favorable disposition to religious freedom from July to November came as a result of Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in October.
Nevada officials have not yet said whether they intend to repeal the ruling.