Chief Justice John Roberts again sided with the Liberals in the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday as he rejected a request by a rural Nevada church to remove a 50-person cap on church services. cult as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Roberts, a conservative appointed by George W Bush, sided with the four liberal judges on recent decisions regarding abortion, immigration and LGBTQ + rights. Observers have highlighted his votes in other cases while warning that he has not necessarily changed color.
In a 5-4 decision on Friday, the court refused to grant a request for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, east of Reno, to be subject to the same Covid-19 restrictions that allow casinos, restaurants and other businesses to operate at 50% capacity with good social distancing.
The church argued that a strict cap on religious gatherings was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment rights to express and exercise beliefs.
Roberts did not explain his vote. Three judges wrote strongly worded dissenting opinions on behalf of the other four Tories who said they would have granted an injunction while the court fully examines the merits of the case.
“That Nevada discriminates in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing,” Judge Samuel Alito wrote in dissenting with Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
“We have a duty to defend the constitution, and even a public health emergency does not relieve us of this responsibility. The constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It doesn’t say anything about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, feed chips into a slot machine, or participate in any other game of chance.
Kavanaugh also wrote his own dissent, as did Judge Neil Gorsuch, who said the world today “with a pandemic upon us poses unusual challenges.”
“But there is no world in which the constitution allows Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel,” Gorsuch wrote.
The church wants to allow as many as 90 people to attend services – with required masks, seated 6 feet apart – in a building with a capacity of 200.
But lawyers for the Nevada state government said last week that several courts across the country followed the Supreme Court’s lead in upholding the state’s power to impose emergency restrictions in response to Covid -19.
Secular Nevada businesses licensed to operate at half-capacity include gyms, barber shops, bowling alleys, and water parks.
Alito said that by allowing thousands of people to congregate 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 size of the facility. measures adopted to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The idea that allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 followers poses a greater risk to public health than allowing casinos to operate at 50% of their capacity is hard to swallow,” he wrote.
Kavanaugh said, “Covid-19 is not a blank check for a state to discriminate against clerics, religious organizations and religious services. Nevada discriminates against religion. ”