John Roberts Does It Again: Conservative Justice Sides With Liberals To Rule Against Nevada Religious Freedom

( A Nevada church lost its fight to block enforcement of coronavirus restrictions on its religious services.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the state didn’t violate the church’s rights. The church argued Nevada’s policy violated the Constitution because it treated church services differently than it did some other large gatherings, such as those at restaurants, casinos and gyms.

Church attendance in Nevada is currently limited to 50 people.

The deciding swing vote in this case was conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, who has been making headlines this year by breaking ranks and siding with the other liberal justices. This is the second time he’s done so on this exact issued. In May, he voted with the other liberals against a church in California that challenged similar limitations on how many people could attend in-person services.

The state of Nevada argued the policy regarding churches had to be different than policies for “individual engagement in commerce.”

According to the state: “Temporarily narrowing restrictions on the size of mass gatherings, including for religious services, protects the health and well-being of Nevada citizens during a global pandemic.”

Governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, paused Nevada’s re-opening plans to Phase 2, extending the policy through the end of July. He did so “due to the trends in COVID-19 infection rates, the time needed for expanded contact tracing to identify trends, and to see the impacts of the governor’s new face covering directive.”

He added that he wouldn’t “hesitate to take any action necessary to protect the public and prevent exceeding our hospital capacity. Including reinstituting previous restrictions.”

Nevada has experienced an increase in confirmed coronavirus cases in recent weeks. The state has recorded a total of 42,843 coronavirus cases and 734 COVID-19 deaths.

Conservative justices issued stark rebuttals in their dissents. Justice Samuel Alito was joined by Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh in his dissent. He wrote:

“[The] Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or black-jack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. 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 Neil Gorsuch wrote a separate dissent. In it, he referenced the various inconsistencies in Nevada’s policy. He specifically mentioned how Nevada’s movie theaters and casinos were allowed to operate under different rules and regulations than churches are.

He wrote:

“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.”

The victory was a rather large one for the state of Nevada, which can now continue on enforcing the restrictions on religious institutions. It’s also a possible victory for other states that may enact similar policies through governor executive order as the coronavirus rages on across the country.