In the case of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Steve Sisolak, Governor of Nevada, et al, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the state of Nevada may maintain their mandate toward churches that only 50 may gather per service.
What is the rub? Restaurants and casinos in Nevada all 50% capacity.
Those who ruled in favor of Nevada’s mandate did not offer a rationale since this was an emergency injunction from Calvary Chapel. Yet, the four who dissented (Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas) offered dissenting remarks.
Justice Samuel Alito in his dissenting remarks noted:
The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities. Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services. A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy—and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed.
Alito captures the frustrations of many Americans who believe many of these rules are arbitrary in nature. And while many want to give our governmental authorities the benefit of the doubt, rulings like these make that most difficult.
The majority of churches have worked to keep their environments safe and clean and according to the codes outlined by local health officials. And, as a pastor, I can say for most of us that we are happy to comply.
What we ask in return is for government to comply with the Constitution in putting the same capacity rules in place in response to freedom speech and freedom of religion. To the cynical mind, restaurants and casinos provide revenue, churches (which by law are tax exempt) do not. Yet, the amount of revenue provided to the state should not contribute to this type of mandate from Nevada.
Philip Meade, Senior Pastor of Graefenburg Baptist Church in Waddy, Kentucky, rightly noted on his blog:
Churches and pastors who ignore the mandates of their government during a pandemic as a means of showing steadfast rebellion against it are reckless. I love the freedom my country allows me, and without the work of the government and its various agencies, there would be no freedom. But thanksgiving for our government and overall trust in their work does not come without limits. When there are missteps, abuse of power, and inconsistencies, Christians have a right and responsibility to say so – and to say it in a way that points people to Jesus, not turn them away from him.
Churches are here to help. We hold to Romans 13 in working with our local officials and will do so in a Christlike manner and not automatically assume nefarious motives. As we care for the souls in our charge as not only imagebearers of God but also children of the Kingdom of God. When rights are threatened and promises that authorities vowed to keep are not kept, we will speak out not for the sake of the rights themselves, but for the souls that those unkempt promises affect.