A sharply divided US Supreme Court denied a rural Nevada church's request late Friday to strike down as unconstitutional a 50-person cap on worship services as part of the state's ongoing response to the coronavirus. In a 5-4 decision, the high court refused to grant the request from the Christian church east of Reno to be subjected to the same COVID-19 restrictions in Nevada that allow casinos, restaurants, and other businesses to operate at 50% of capacity with proper social distancing, per the AP. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley argued that the hard cap on religious gatherings was an unconstitutional violation of its parishioners' First Amendment rights to express and exercise their beliefs. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal majority; Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.
The church wants to allow as many as 90 people to attend services at the same time—with masks required, sitting 6 feet apart—at the sanctuary, with a capacity of 200. Other secular businesses in the state allowed to operate at half capacity include gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, and water parks. The church appealed to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a US judge in Nevada upheld the state's 50% capacity policy for casinos and other businesses. The San Francisco appellate court is still considering the appeal, but it has denied the church's request for an emergency injunction in the meantime. "Temporarily narrowing restrictions on the size of mass gatherings, including for religious services, protects the health and well-being of Nevada citizens during a global pandemic," Nevada's lawyers wrote last week. In his dissent, Gorsuch wrote, "There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel."
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