9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of Dayton church

Tom Alexander holds a cross as he prays prior to rulings outside the Supreme Court on Capitol...
Tom Alexander holds a cross as he prays prior to rulings outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. T.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)(Patrick Semansky | AP)
Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 8:10 PM PDT|Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 at 1:08 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - UPDATE DEC. 15: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed itself and has ruled in favor of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley and Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in their lawsuits against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s orders restricting church attendance.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled against the churches. However, after Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Court, the Justices ruled against excessive state restrictions in the case of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.

In the decision, the 9th Circuit ruled, “The Directive treats numerous secular activities and entities significantly better than religious worship services. We must, therefore, review the Directive under strict scrutiny. Although slowing the spread of COVID-19 is a compelling interest, the Directive is not narrowly tailored to serve that interest because, for example, the Directive could have tied the maximum attendance allowed at a religious service to the size of the house of worship. See id. Accordingly, the Directive does not survive strict scrutiny review.”

The Appellate Court ruling allows the state to place limits on church occupancy, but it cannot make those limits stricter than what is allowed for commercial businesses.

Gov. Sisolak’s office has issued a statement: “The purpose of this Directive – and all of the directives the State has issued since the onset of this global pandemic  – was and is to save lives and protect the health of the public. While we’re disappointed by the Court’s decision, we respect and will comply with this Order. I continue to encourage Nevadans to practice their religious faiths in a manner that is safe for them and their families, particularly with the upcoming holidays. I have often talked to Nevadans about my personal faith and I will continue to participate in virtual masses at this time.”

The Governor acknowledged that churches, synagogues, mosques and temples can again meet in person if occupancy does not exceed 25% of the listed fire code. The houses of worship must also abide by the Governor’s Directive 035 requiring:

· Seating must be arranged to ensure a minimum of six feet of separation between congregants who do not reside in the same household.

· Participants, including leaders and staff, must wear face coverings as required by Directive 024.

· Houses of worship are encouraged to stagger services so that the entrance and egress of congregants for different services do not result in services exceeding the 25% occupancy limit, and to provide proper sanitation between services.

· Houses of worship are still strongly encouraged to offer online and drive-up services to the greatest extent possible.

· Houses of worship offering indoor-in-person services are encouraged to follow the guidelines promulgated by the Nevada Department of Business and Industry or its constituent agencies.

There is no word yet on whether Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford will appeal the ruling back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ORIGINAL STORY: The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a Lyon County church’s effort to block state COVID-19 rules from capping church attendance at 50.

The court voted 5-4 against injunctive relief for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the four more liberal justices.

The five justices who turned back the church’s attempt to block Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, did not elaborate on their decision.

The church filed suit May 22 against Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Lyon County Sheriff Frank Hunewill charging the cap on religious gatherings violated its First Amendment rights for freedom of religion.

The church said it was waiting for Sisolak to allow churches to reopen. Sisolak allowed businesses to reopen at 50 percent capacity, while churches were capped at 50 people.

“But that trust has been broken,” the lawsuit charged. “Instead of prioritizing religious freedom, the Governor has moved ‘non-essential’ secular businesses and activities 14 to the front of the line and pushed churches towards the back.”

Dissenting justices published opinions.

“The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges,” Justice Neil Goruch wrote. “But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”

“A public health emergency does not give governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “As more medical and scientific evidence becomes available, and as States have time to craft policies in light of that evidence, courts should expect policies that more carefully ac-count for constitutional rights.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh called Nevada’s restrictions a violation of religious freedom.

“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,” Kavanaugh wrote. “In other words, Nevada is discriminating against religion.”

In supporting the restriction, the state noted churches were being treated the same as other mass gatherings like movie theaters and concerts.

Neither Calvary Chapel nor its lawyer could be reached for comment.

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