We Can’t Roll the Dice on Religious Liberty: Nevada, the Supreme Court, and Churches

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Religious liberty still matters in the midst of this pandemic.

The Supreme Court has chosen in a 5-4 ruling not to grant injunctive relief to churches in Nevada in light of the state’s arguably inconsistent Covid-19 guidelines. In doing so, the Supreme Court let stand what is wrong: churches are being treated differently than similar gatherings. Multiple justices in the minority wrote dissents, and those help us to see the issues in play. I’ve quoted the justice’s words since their expertise is more important (and informed) than mine.

Justice Neil Gorsuch explained in his dissent:

This is a simple case. Under the Governor’s edict, a 10-screen “multiplex” may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps sic people huddled at craps table here and a similar number gather around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But, churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting 50 worshippers—no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear masks, no matter the precautions at all.

Gorsuch is correct. It was a simple case.

Even left-leaning Vox (known for its explainer articles) was surprised, asserting that Roberts is supportive of state officials “even when they hand down public health orders that draw constitutionally dubious lines.”

As I (and many others) have consistently said, that’s a line that churches cannot accept. Other states have consistently applied the rules in similar settings.

The SCOTUS Blog put it quite forthrightly:

A divided Supreme Court on Friday night turned down a request by a Nevada church for permission to hold services on the same terms that other facilities in the state, including casinos, …

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