By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
July 31, 2020
In a split decision (5-4), the United States Supreme Court turned down an emergency request last Friday for an injunction pending appeal for a Nevada church. The application filed by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, located about 15 miles outside of Carson City, would have allowed it to have in-person worship services during the pandemic on the same grounds as other facilities in Nevada, including casinos, which can have up to 50 percent of their capacity for gatherings.
According to SCOTUSblog, The church argued that “[t]he order discriminates against places of worship…because it limits services there to a maximum of 50 people while allowing casinos, gyms, bars, and restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity. The church stressed that it was willing to comply with rules regarding masks and social distancing; all that it was asking, it emphasized, was to be treated the same as anyone else.”
The request filed by Calvary Chapel, was “[i]n a brief one-sentence order” rejected by the High Court, says SCOTUSblog.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberals on the court to tip the scales against religious liberty in Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Steve Sisolak, Governor of Nevada. Conservatives blasted the decision.
Justice Samuel Alito said he wasn’t surprised the state of Nevada would value gambling more than religious freedom, “but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing.”
“We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility,” said Alito in his dissent. He added that the government could not “disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists.”
Justice Neal Gorsuch filed a separate dissent which was short, but powerfully pointed. He wrote that the case was simple, arguing:
“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 six people huddled at each craps table here and a similar number gathered around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting more than 50 worshippers—no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear face masks, no matter the precautions at all. In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion. The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted that by voting as he did, Justice Roberts had “abandoned his oath.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement, “Freedom of religion is our first freedom. Yet SCOTUS has ruled casinos can host hundreds of gamblers, while churches cannot welcome their full congregations. Justice Roberts once again got it wrong, shamefully closing doors to their flocks.”
Although the decision to deny the emergency request for an injunction was egregious, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel points out that “denial of the emergency relief pending appeal is not a denial on the merits of the case.
“Requesting the Supreme Court to intervene in an ongoing case before the lower Court of Appeals rules on the merits is an extraordinary request. The standard for obtaining such relief is higher than required for an injunction. Moreover, such a motion for relief requests the Supreme Court to interfere with the normal process of allowing the lower courts to rule on the merits of the case.
“Just as a denial of a request to review a case (petition for certioriari) is not a ruling on the merits and has no precedential value (even if the denial includes dissents), so a denial of a petition for an injunction pending appeal has no precedential value.”
Staver concludes, “The litigation will continue until the lower courts issue final rulings, at which time the Supreme Court will be able to consider one or more of these cases on the merits.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said that North Carolinians have much for which to be thankful. He referenced the recent decision made by a federal judge who vacated Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order #138. The Governor’s order at that time prohibited indoor-worshipers of more than ten people.
“For the state to say that any person who looks to Christ as King must deny God and obey Caesar is to violate that individual’s religious liberty. To demand, under the threat of prosecution, that someone who holds to the Sovereignty of God in all things must, even when it’s a pandemic, place compliance to the state above God is to trample on their religious convictions and abrogate God’s dominion. Thus, whether it’s a Governor, a Court, a magistrate, they put themselves above God. Conscience is the most sacred of all rights, and when Government forces people to violate their conscience, the load-bearing pillar of all rights is undermined at the risk of the entire edifice of rights,” said Creech.