On July 24, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Nevada can impose tighter restrictions on churches than on casinos. This decision came after Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four dissenting justices appointed by Democratic presidents. The five dissenting justices in the majority did not elect to explain their decision.
The court issued a similar ruling by declining a challenge from a California church claiming that the state placed more restrictive coronavirus restrictions on churches than on businesses. The four dissenting justices, appointed by GOP presidents, wrote lengthy dissents arguing why the majority’s decision to turn the church away was unconstitutional.
Chief Justice John Roberts argued that religious gatherings were similar to public assemblies and that secular businesses were under different standards. In contrast, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his dissent that the risk of “COVID-19 transmission is at least as high a restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms, as it is at religious services.”
In addition, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch also wrote in his dissent, “A casino may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps six people huddled at each craps table here and a similar number gathered around every roulette wheel there. But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting no more than fifty worshippers – no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear face masks, no matter the precautions at all.”
Associate Samuel Alito wrote in his dissent, “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the ability to play craps, or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance,”.
These dissents highlight something of a double standard by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has a history of inconsistent rulings. This goes back to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in 2012 to uphold Obamacare when Roberts was the deciding vote.
His opinion, a stark contrast to the lengthy dissents written by the four justices in the minority, implies that secular businesses and organizations can be held to a different standard than religious organizations. This is an extremely dangerous precedent set by the chief justice, because the ability to freely practice religion, which includes the ability to assemble and worship without government interference, is a guaranteed right in the Constitution.
This ruling paves the way for members of the political establishment to dictate the terms of how Americans assemble to practice their faith. Christians are not the only ones who should be outraged by this, but members of any religious community should rightfully be alarmed at the nation’s highest court giving the government a free pass to micromanage the ability to publicly assemble.
Conservatives across the country have voiced their displeasure with the chief justice. Senator Ted Cruz, said John Roberts has “abdicated his oath, and is playing games, … to get the political outcomes he desires.”
While judges are intended to be apolitical, they are expected to uphold the rights and values upon which this nation was built, and the chief justice has failed to do so.
Any American who cares more about the values of religious freedom and is more concerned about the permanence of those values than the temporary impact of COVID-19 should support President Trump.
The next justice appointed, if selected by President Trump, will not completely mute the voice of John Roberts but will make it possible for associate justices Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Thomas to interpret the law fairly in the interest of religious liberty.
As unfortunate as it may seem, this is the only practical action that Americans who are opposed to Roberts’ inconsistent rulings can take in order to protect the Supreme Court, which is the final authority in interpreting and protecting United States law.