SALT LAKE CITY — The Supreme Court ruled last week that Nevada can force churches to stay closed while casinos can remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal jurists to cap the limit on worship-service gatherings at 50 congregants but allow casinos, bars and restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court’s four conservative justices — Kavanaugh, Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas — called the ruling a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. 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,” Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote.
In a case against a California church in May, Roberts said religious observances are similar to public assemblies and not secular businesses.
Mike Lee on Live Mic
Utah Republican US Sen Mike Lee joins Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss the case against the Nevada church — Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley — and its implications.
“The fact that you can have a state tell casinos that they can open and will make accommodations for them based on concerns related to the global pandemic while simultaneously telling churches that they don’t have access to the same kind of exceptions even with the comparable kinds of spacing requirements in place as are available to casinos — that’s a problem,” Lee said. “That’s a problem the Supreme Court should’ve remedied and didn’t.”
“What can you do about it as a member of the Senate, and what can folks like me do about this?” Lee asked.
Sen. Lee said the case should have never gone all the way to the US Supreme Court if state and local officials in Nevada had made comparable accommodations for churches.
“I think the most important thing we can do as citizens is when we see a local government taking an action, we should make sure religious accommodations are made,” Lee said. “We should make sure that at a minimum, churches aren’t treated on a level or under a standard that is inferior to or more aggressive or restrictive than a casino.”
“Is there a time when such perceived betrayal of the Bill of Rights, and particularly the First Amendment to the Constitution, is so betrayed by the courts that protest is called for?” Lee asked. “The extreme comes to mind.”
“Protest in the sense of people speaking their mind is always warranted, is always constitutionally protected,” the senator said. “As long as you’re doing so in a peaceful law-abiding fashion.”
Sen. Lee said he strongly suspects that there will be some political backlash in Nevada over this court case.
“I strongly suspect they’ll think twice next time before making a decision like this,” he said.
Lee asked Sen. Lee about his speech “The Supreme Court and Religious Liberty: The Top Court’s Impact This Term” on Tuesday hosted by the Sutherland Institute. Attendees are required to register online before the event to receive a Zoom invitation. Find out more here.
“Even though we’ve had a disappointing decision [from the US Supreme Court] here or there, we’ve also had some very good ones this term, and I am encouraged by that,” the senator said.
Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.
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