The Supreme Court on Friday denied a request from a Nevada church to block enforcement of the state's 50-person attendance limit on all places of worship — a rule which applies regardless of building capacity.
The attendance cap on places of worship has drawn ire, with many churches noting that Nevada has more generous rules for businesses such as casinos, restaurants, and movie theaters, which are allowed to permit customers to gather inside at up to 50% of building capacity.
In the case, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, a rural Nevada church, had requested the ability to hold services for 90 people, roughly "50 percent of its fire-code capacity." It also promised further safety precautions to keep churchgoers safe during the coronavirus pandemic:
"In addition to asking congregants to adhere to proper social distancing protocols, it intends to cut the length of services in half. It also plans to require six feet of separation between families seated in the pews, to prohibit items from being passed among the congregation, to guide congregants to designated doorways along one-way paths, and to leave sufficient time between services so that the church can be sanitized."
The vote to deny Calvary Chapel's request was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John Roberts again joining the court's four liberal justices to render the decision. The court's brief order was unsigned and gave no reasons to justify its ruling.
Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh all issued dissenting opinions rejecting the constitutionality of the decision.
Justice Gorsuch's dissension was particularly brief and punchy, as he blasted the decision, saying, "There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel":
Justice Kavanaugh also expressed strong disagreement with the decision, writing in part:
"In my view, Nevada's discrimination against religious services violates the Constitution. To be clear, a State's closing or reopening plan may subject religious organizations to the same limits as secular organizations. And in light of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, those limits may be very strict.
But a State may not impose strict limits on places of worship and looser limits on restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms, at least without sufficient justification for the differential treatment of religion."