Weeks after California settled with Harvest Rock Church, the state of Nevada was forced to pay out $175,000 for discriminating against Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in its COVID restrictions.
“We’re just extremely pleased to be able to come together to once again worship in person because of just how vital and essential it is to families of faith and the entire community,” said Garry Leist, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley.
The Nevada Board of Examiners approved a request by the Office of the Attorney General to pay a tort claim to Calvary Chapel in the amount of $175,000.
The church had sued Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford, and Lyon County Sheriff Frank Hunewill because the Governor’s order originally banned all indoor worship services while allowing other “essential” businesses to operate. The governor later loosened the order but still restricted church attendance to 50 people while allowing casinos and other businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity.
“Instead of prioritizing religious freedom, the Governor has moved ‘non-essential’ secular businesses and activities to the front of the line and pushed churches towards the back,” the lawsuit read.
Jeremiah Galus, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented Calvary Chapel, said, “It becomes very clear that churches are being treated as second-class. I think the most obvious example of this is with the Governor’s reopening plan where restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in services at 50% capacity.”
In December 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction against Nevada’s pandemic-related restrictions because they treated secular events and businesses “significantly better” than worship services.
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said,
“There is no constitutional right to gamble, but there is one that protects attending worship services. The government has a duty to respect the First Amendment, so it can’t single out churches for harsher treatment than secular activities. Today, the Ninth Circuit made clear that, at a minimum, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley can’t be treated more harshly than Nevada’s casinos, bowling alleys, retail businesses, restaurants, and arcades. Such disparate treatment is both illogical and unconstitutional.”
Since last November, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of churches over governments that unfairly restricted church attendance and other religious activities. These rulings were especially necessary to ensure that governments do not unfairly restrict worship in the future, whether due to a pandemic or other emergency.
Why governors ever believed they could discriminate against churches while giving free rein to secular businesses is puzzling. Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand that religious liberty is the foundational freedom upon which all other civil liberties rest. Or perhaps authorities have gotten so used to infringing on religious freedom and getting away with it that they thought they could continue. And it could be that governors simply relished having the power to decide which activities are essential and which are not. When the state begins to think of itself as the central and most important institution in society, it will certainly do its part to diminish and even extinguish the role of the Church and religious freedom, as we have seen take place in so many totalitarian governments over the last century.
Courts are the last vanguard protecting the God-given and constitutional rights of Americans, and it is truly essential that they continue to stand up for the rights of churches and religious Americans.