By / Jul 24

Tonight, the Supreme Court declined to hear an emergency appeal from the Ninth Circuit in the case of Calvary Chapel v. Sisolak. The case involves challenges brought by a number of churches in Nevada—including Southern Baptist churches—to the Nevada governor’s reopening plans which treated similar entities, indoor spaces where people gather, differently.

Under Governor Steve Sislolak orders, casinos in Nevada are permitted to reopen at 50% of their capacity. That means that if a casino’s maximum capacity is 1,000 people, the casino may allow 500 people in to gamble at its tables. Churches are also allowed to reopen, but the Governor’s order limits church gathering capacity to 50 individuals, regardless of the size of the gathering space. This is the case no matter what other safety measures the church puts in place to combat the spread of Covid-19.

As the ERLC has repeatedly advocated in our engagements with Governor’s offices and city halls around the country throughout this pandemic, churches must be treated the same as similar businesses, spaces, and activities. This case denied by the justices tonight is an example of disparate treatment and a violation of the religious liberty of millions of Nevadans.

Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a number of churches in the Silver State sued Governor Sislolak, arguing that these regulations, which treated churches unequally, denied their religious freedom. The churches lost their case at the district court, and appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where they lost again. They then filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Tonight, in a 5-4 decision with Chief Justice Roberts joining the four liberal justices, the Court declined to hear the emergency appeal.

Four justices—Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh—together issued three blistering dissents from the Court’s refusal to take up this emergency appeal. Justice Gorsuch perhaps sums up the situation best in his dissent:

“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.”

In a separate dissent, Justice Kavanaugh adds, “the idea that allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 worshippers presents a greater public health risk than allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity is hard to swallow, and the State’s efforts to justify the discrimination are feeble.”

Commenting on the denial of the emergency appeal, Russell Moore said:

I am saddened and disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to bring sanity into this dispute over religious exercise in Nevada. For weeks, churches in Nevada have faced unfair restrictions while the doors of casinos, restaurants, and bars have been flung wide open. As a nation, we are all facing an unprecedented global pandemic, and we must all work together to combat this virus. As virtually every court and almost every religious organization has affirmed: the state has legitimate rights and obligations to protect public health in an emergency such as this. Every restriction, though, must be both rooted in compelling interest and be consistently applied. Nevada from the start should have relied on pastors and religious leaders to be partners in combating Covid-19 as they have apparently done with casino magnates. Nevada’s insistence on treating churches differently than casinos is inexplicable and must stop.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear this emergency appeal means that the case will return to the lower courts. The ERLC will continue to advocate for the religious freedom of churches in Nevada and across the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic, as we work together to combat the virus.

By / Oct 2

A gunman fired on a crowd gathered for a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip this past Sunday night, killing at least 58 people and wounding nearly 400. The attack is the deadliest mass shooting in modern history of the United States.

When faced with this type of violent crisis we should first turn to our Comforter in prayer. We should seek healing for the wounded, the grieving families, and for our broken nation. Our next step should be to respond as Christians.

Matthew Mihelic offers five ways to help guide our thinking about how to respond to such violence:

1. Love.  Always choose to love. Always choose to forgive. Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and show empathy to those who are grieving—even if they express their grief in a way that makes you uncomfortable.

2. Seek unity. As members of the body of Christ, Christians strive for the unity that Christ has accomplished with his redemption. Let the church be the model of forgiveness and unity that society is lacking. Let your Christian unity in this hour be the story you pass down to your grandkids when they ask you about these troubled times.

3. Do justice. Do what you’re called to do as a citizen and pray (1 Timothy 2) for government to do what they are called to do as civil authority. Recognize that God has given the sword to the civil authorities to ensure justice. They need prayer. Through prayer and proper honor, seek justice by promoting good government. Because government is intended to be God’s gift of common grace to man, Christians are seeking the good of their neighbors when they seek to promote good government.

4. Soberly recognize and mourn sin’s effects. These events remind us that we live in a cursed world. As we feel the effects of a fallen creation, we must view these events with sober-mindedness. Mass murder are the results of humans being humans in a sinful age. Let us mourn the effects of a fallen world with those who mourn. Sin is tragic, and it is not God’s will.

5. Have hope. You have a home with God where no violence intrudes because Christ has paid for your every sin. Let the victory of the cross in your life compel you forward to courageously seek gospel transformation in your city today. In times such as these, God often uses the hope of Christians to powerfully shine into a culture in despair.