Last week, hundreds of people poured through the doors of Nevada casinos, which reopened after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, it is illegal for churches in Nevada to meet with more than 50 people.
This unequal treatment of churches is why Alliance Defending Freedom sued Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on behalf of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley.
The First Amendment requires religious organizations to be treated no less favorably than secular organizations. In fact, in a previous ADF case, the Supreme Court said that violating this principle and discriminating against religious organizations is “odious to our Constitution.”
Yet unequal treatment is exactly what we’re seeing in Nevada. Casinos are open for business. Slot machine handles are being pulled. Poker chips are being passed. Barstools are filled. Advertisements exclaim that “Vegas is back.”
But churches face criminal and civil penalties if they dare open the doors to 50 or more fellow believers. Somehow, Nevada has decided this is the best way to reopen the state. And it doesn’t think that plan poses a First Amendment issue.
Gov. Steve Sisolak can’t expect anyone to believe that his unequal regulation of church services—while opening wide the doors of casinos—is a fair and logical way to flatten the curve.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, like many churches across the state, wants to resume in-person worship services. In order to reopen, it plans to implement reasonable health and safety protocols. Those policies include meeting at less than 50 percent of its building’s capacity and practicing social distancing.
So far, a number of Nevada churches have been denied the freedom to assemble and worship together. But if you’re looking to gather with hundreds of strangers for a night on the town—maybe over hours of poker—be Nevada’s guest.
We can’t allow this kind of government overreach, trampling on our First Amendment freedom. After all, religious freedom is a preeminent right—it shouldn’t take a backseat to things like gambling.
The ADF Church Alliance team is working to ensure that government officials do not treat churches worse than secular organizations and to ensure that they respect our constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. So far, the ADF Church Alliance has successfully defended churches from similar government overreach in over a dozen legal matters, all across the country.
Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain and defend the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian ministries, and religious schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on Alliance Defending Freedom.