The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday voted 5-4 to nix a request from a Nevada church to block the state’s restrictions limiting attendance at religious services during the pandemic.
The unsigned order was issued without an opinion and followed the ruling that the court issued in May in a case out of California, which also was 5-4 and which Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court had to give wide latitude to elected officials during a health emergency.
Roberts again was joined by the four liberal justices: Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
Justice Samuel Alito again dissented, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, who added more to the dissent. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a separate dissenting opinion.
At issue was Nevada’s regulations that prohibited church gatherings of more than 50 people while casinos in the state were capped at 50 percent capacity.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Dayton claimed the different regulations amounted to religious discrimination and wanted the Supreme Court to step in and void the regulations so it could allow up to 90 people.
“The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges,” Gorsuch wrote. “But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Alito, who chastised the majority in May, offered a sarcastic opinion.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” he wrote. “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.”
“That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing.”
Kavanaugh was the bluntest of all.
“Nevada’s 50-person attendance cap on religious worship services puts praying at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques on worse footing than eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, gambling at casinos or biking at gyms,” he wrote. “In other words, Nevada is discriminating against religion.”
The court in the California ruling appeared to contradict or at least ignore its long-standing precedent, used in cases such as Roe vs. Wade, that the state a required narrowly tailored restriction to meet a “compelling state interest” to violate a fundamental right.
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