Conservative lawmakers slammed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts after he sided with the court’s liberal wing in a 5-4 decision Friday that rejected a Nevada church’s request to block the state government from enforcing a cap on attendance at religious services.
Senator Ted Cruz tweeted early Saturday morning that Roberts had “abandoned his oath.”
“What happened to that judge?” tweeted Senator Tom Cotton
“Freedom of religion is our first freedom. Yet SCOTUS has ruled that casinos can host hundreds of gamblers, while churches cannot welcome their full congregations. Justice Roberts once again got it wrong, shamefully closing church doors to their flocks,” Cotton added in a statement.
The decision strikes down a suit from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, which argued that it was being treated unfairly compared with other businesses in the state. While places of worship in Nevada have a hard 50-person limit amid the coronavirus pandemic, businesses such as casinos and restaurants can operate at half of their fire-code capacities. This discrepancy was a violation of the First Amendment, the church asserted in the suit.
Defending its imposed restrictions, Nevada stated that its regulations didn’t target places of worship unfairly, saying that other large gatherings — such as concerts and movie showings — were treated “the same as or worse than houses of worship.”
The complaint made its way to the highest court in the land after being rejected by a district court and a circuit court.
Three of the conservative justices wrote dissenting opinions on the emergency order.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in dissent. “It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.”
“That Nevada would discriminate 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. We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility,” he added.
This is the second time the Supreme Court has ruled against a church challenging a capacity restriction during the pandemic. In May, the court ruled 5-4 in a similar case, turning away a challenge from a California church.