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US Supreme Court Rejects Church's Plea To Relax 50 Persons Limit On Religious Services Amid COVID-19

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
26 July 2020 3:23 AM GMT
US Supreme Court Rejects Church

The Supreme Court of United States (5:4) refused to grant injunctive relief against an order passed by Governor of Nevada limiting the maximum participants at a church,synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, to 50 persons.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, a church located in rural Nevada. They challenged the county zoning ordinance under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act before the District Court which dismissed their plea. The District Court's order was upheld by the Court of Appeals. They filed appeal challenging these orders before the Supreme Court.

Along with the appeal, the Church filed an application seeking injunctive relief, contending that it had adopted social distancing protocols and had planned to limit attendance to less than 50% of its building's capacity.

However, the majority dismissed the application without assigning any reasons.

Interestingly, Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Michael Kavanaugh wrote separate dissenting opinions. Justice Gorshuch in his brief dissent observed:

"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 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."

Justice Alito opined that preventing congregants from worshipping would cause irreparable harm. He said that the Court has a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility. He opined thus:

"Having allowed thousands to gather in casinos, the State cannot claim to have a compelling interest in limiting religious gatherings to 50 people—regardless of the size of the facility and the measures adopted to prevent the spread of the virus. "[A] law cannot be regarded as protecting an interest of the highest order . . . when it leaves appreciable damage to that supposedly vital interest unprohibited.." And even if the 50-person limit served a compelling interest, the State has not shown that public safety could not be protected at least as well by measures such as those Calvary Chapel proposes to implement."

According to Justice Kavanaugh, who joined the dissent, a State's closing or reopening plan may subject religious organizations to the same limits as secular organizations. He said that Nevada's treatment of religious organizations is unconstitutional under the Court's precedents. He summed up his dissenting opinion thus:

"Nevada's 50-person attendance cap on religious worship services puts praying at churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques on worse footing than eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, gambling at casinos, or biking at gyms. In other words, Nevada is discriminating against religion. And because the State has not offered a sufficient justification for doing so, that discrimination violates the First Amendment. I would grant the Church's application for a temporary injunction. I respectfully dissent."

In May, the US Supreme Court had rejected a similar plea made by a church against the attendance restrictions in California.

Click here to Download/Read Dissenting Opinions




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