A divided U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort by a Nevada church to ease limits on the size of its services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Voting 5-4, the justices rebuffed Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, a Reno-area church that said the state was unconstitutionally discriminating by imposing stricter requirements on church services than on Las Vegas casinos. The state’s order limits indoor church services to 50 people, and the church said it wanted to accommodate as many as 90.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberals in the majority. The court as a whole gave no explanation, though Roberts said in an earlier case that judges must give elected officials wide latitude to make health and safety judgments during a pandemic.
Calvary Chapel argued that religious services are being subjected to discrimination because gatherings at some locations, including casinos, are limited to half their fire-code capacity while services at places of worship are capped at 50, no matter their facilities’ size.
“Thousands of people swarmed around gaming tables and slot machines for long periods at 50% capacity,” the church said in papers filed with the court.
Nevada officials counter that the state is treating religious organizations the same or better than other mass gatherings because some venues like movie theaters and museums are limited to 50% of occupancy or 50 people, whichever is less. Audiences are prohibited at concerts.
Casinos are subject to restrictions that are more extensive than for religious gatherings, the state argued, including providing masks for customers and designated locations for Covid-19 testing. Nevada’s gaming regulator has required masks at card and game tables if there is no other barrier.
“Choosing to reopen a highly regulated industry, that is subject to significant regulatory control that allows for a rapid shutdown if a second Covid-19 outbreak arises, makes sense,” state officials said.
The case is Calvary Chapel v. Sisolak, 19A1070.