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Under Nevada governor’s new rules, more people can play slots than gather for worship

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RENO, Nev. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Lyon County church filed a supplemental brief Thursday in their federal lawsuit against Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and other state officials for allowing casinos and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity while continuing to restrict churches to gatherings of 50 or fewer people as part of the state’s reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic. The church, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, is requesting court orders that would immediately halt enforcement of the church gathering ban while the lawsuit moves forward.

“If groups of people can meet to play the slots, then the state can’t play favorites and treat churches worse than casinos,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “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. Gov. Sisolak’s updated plan still treats gambling and restaurant dining more favorably than worship, and that’s unconstitutional.”

ADF’s brief includes video footage of a recently reopened, crowded casino floor where the majority of patrons pictured are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Among the exceptions to Sisolak’s gathering restrictions, restaurants can resume on-site dining at 50% capacity and gyms and fitness centers can open at 50% capacity. But the governor has refused to allow churches and other places of worship to open their doors to 50 or more people under any circumstance.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley wishes to resume in-person worship services that would amount to less than 50% of its building’s capacity and has developed comprehensive social distancing and health and safety protocols to govern those services. Despite these health and safety measures, however, the governor’s church gathering ban threatens the church with criminal and civil penalties.

As the ADF brief notes, “selective enforcement of the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people further highlights the state’s preferential treatment of similar secular conduct.”

“Gov. Sisolak has chosen to suspend enforcement of the gathering ban selectively and even publicly supported some protestors who gathered together closely in violation of his directive,” explained ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “The Constitution doesn’t allow the governor to make arbitrary decisions supporting some speech while suppressing prayer and worship.”

Jason D. Guinasso, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the church in Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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