EMERGING ISSUES ON THE HILL: Supreme Court Asked To Block Nevada Covid Reg That Favors Casinos Over Churches

Attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and representing Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in rural Lyon County, Nevada, petitioned the Supreme Court Thursday to declare unconstitutional a state regulation that discriminates against churches.

Pastor Garry Leist of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley church in Nevada. (Photo courtesy of ADF)

“Attempting to combat the spread of COVID-19, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a series of executive orders that restrict personal liberties,” the petition told the Court. Sisolak is a Democrat.

“The subject of this petition are the Governor’s orders limiting church gatherings. For example, Directive 021 allowed large groups to assemble in close quarters for unlimited time-periods at casinos, restaurants, indoor amusements parks, bowling alleys, water parks, pools, arcades, and more, subject only to a 50%- fire-code-capacity limit.

“In contrast, the directive limited gatherings at places of worship to no more than 50 people, whatever their facilities’ size or the precautions they take.

“So if a casino and a church both had capacity for 2,000 persons, the casino could entertain 1,000 gambling patrons while the church could only host 50 of its faithful for worship. Directive 033 has, for now, superseded Directive 021 but still treats places of worship less well than their secular counterparts.

“Such unequal treatment requires strict scrutiny, yet the Governor did not try to offer a compelling justification for the unequal treatment.”

The case has “immense jurisprudential significance that will impact this case and many like it across the country,” the petition said, because it raises two critically important issues, including whether the Sisolak regulations violate the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause and its free speech and assembly clauses.

“Such unequal treatment requires strict scrutiny, yet the Governor did not try to offer a compelling justification for the unequal treatment.”

The church is appealing to the High Court after being denied relief repeatedly by the Ninth Circuit’s district and appeals courts.

A Supreme Court procedural rule makes it possible for the Nevada to church to submit its petition even as its case moves forward in the Ninth Circuit appeals process.

“The ordinary process could result in the church being subject to unconstitutional gathering restrictions for many additional months,” ADF said in a statement announcing the petition.

“The First Amendment requires churches not be treated as second-class,” ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch said in the statement.

“There is no time to waste. Casino patrons can still stream into Nevada’s gambling establishments at 50 percent capacity while churches have a hard cap.

“The governor continues to violate the Constitution, so the church has no choice but to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to restore its freedoms under the First Amendment now.”

And in its petition, the church told the High Court that “Governor Sisolak has consistently doubled down on religious discrimination, and he and other government officials around the country will continue to do so until this Court intervenes.”

Discriminatory treatment of churches under Covid regulations has prompted multiple court cases, more of which will likely also end up in the Supreme Court in coming months. Church advocates hope the Court will rule that churches cannot be treated any differently than secular groups.

There are likely to be efforts in Congress beginning in January to limit state and local authorities ability to impose such disparate treatment on churches under the guise of public health regulations.


 

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here: https://hillfaith.blog/about-hillfaith-2/