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Can Churches Be Treated Worse Than Casinos? We Asked the Supreme Court to Weigh In

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
July 8, 2020

“Las Vegas. Now Open!”

So declared an ad announcing the reopening of casinos after closures due to COVID-19.

But while hundreds of thousands of people streamed into casinos, Nevada churches were prohibited from holding worship services with more than 50 people—under threat of criminal and civil penalties.

That’s a clear (and unconstitutional) double standard. And one Nevada church is taking a stand to correct it.

 

Who: Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley

Like most churches across the country, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley shut its doors for months in compliance with the Nevada Governor’s church gathering ban, livestreaming its services online.

As Nevada started to reopen at the beginning of June, the church hoped to resume in-person worship services with certain restrictions. Calvary Chapel even developed a comprehensive health and safety plan, including meeting at less than 50 percent of its building’s capacity, practicing social distancing, encouraging the use of face masks, and limiting services to 45 minutes.

But Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak had other plans. Instead of prioritizing religious freedom, Gov. Sisolak continued to restrict church meetings while providing exceptions for “non-essential” businesses—such as casinos, restaurants, bars, theme parks, and gyms.

While these secular organizations could reopen at 50 percent capacity, churches face criminal and civil penalties if they open their doors to 50 or more attendees.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley knew this wasn’t right.

 

What: Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak

With people pouring into the recently reopened casinos—many failing to social distance or wear face masks—a clear double standard was exposed. Watch the video below to see for yourself.

 

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley. This lawsuit challenges Gov. Sisolak’s unconstitutional ban on church gatherings.

Calvary Chapel trusted that the government would eventually restore its constitutional freedoms and allow it to resume in-person worship services at the earliest opportunity.

But that is not what happened.

Instead, Gov. Sisolak played favorites.

As ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker put it: “The government can certainly prioritize public health and safety, but it can’t move businesses and non-religious activities to the front of the line for reopening and push churches to the back.”

 

When: May 2020 – Present

ADF filed a lawsuit against Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak in May 2020. On June 22, 2020, ADF asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to halt Gov. Sisolak’s unconstitutional church gathering ban while the church appealed. Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit declined to do so, and on July 7, 2020, ADF filed an emergency motion at the Supreme Court asking it to stop Nevada's unconstitutional treatment of churches. 

 

Where: Nevada

This unequal treatment of churches is happening across the state of Nevada.

 

Why: To ensure churches are not treated worse than secular organizations

The First Amendment requires religious organizations be treated no less favorably than secular organizations. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that unequal treatment of churches and religious organizations is “odious to our Constitution.”

 

The Bottom Line

It is unconstitutional to treat churches worse than these secular organizations, yet that is exactly what Nevada is doing.


Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.


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