WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled late Friday that Nevada can impose tighter restrictions on churches than casinos while a legal dispute over its social distancing policies continues.
The 5-4 ruling included dissents from conservative justices who said limiting church gatherings to 50 worshipers while allowing bars, restaurants, casinos and indoor amusement parks to operate at 50% capacity violates freedom of religion.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices in turning aside a challenge from a Nevada church. The same five justices ruled the same way in May, when a California church sought to exceed a 25% capacity threshold under the theory that local businesses were allowed to do so. In that case, Roberts said religious observances are comparable to public assemblies, not secular businesses.
In the Nevada case, the five justices in the majority did not explain their ruling. But the dissenting justices wrote 24 pages to complain that churches were not being treated equally with public assemblies, a violation of the First Amendment in their view.
"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," Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote.
"Under the governor’s edict, a 10-screen multiplex may host 500 moviegoers at any time," Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch noted. "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.
"But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting more than 50 worshipers – no […]