The state of Nevada has 41,000 confirmed cases and 722 deaths. The Government placed these restrictions as measures against the further spread. The church in Nevada applied for an injunction against the restriction. The Supreme Court denied an emergency application for an injunction.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley applied for an injunction. The application contended for their free exercise of religion. Directive 21 of the governor’s phase two reopening plan restricts the number of attendees. The churches in Nevada have a cap of 50 attendees. This is a part of the restrictions laid down in reaction to the spread of COVID -19. The suit was first bought in the Federal District Court. Then appealed to Ninth Circuit, both of whom denied the injunction.
Arguments of the Parties
The petitioners’ main contention was that places like casinos have a 50% bar on capacity. The religious places have a cap of 50 people irrespective of their capacity. The application accused the governor of Nevada for having different priorities. They claimed this violates their First Amendment rights. Violation of the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause.
The defence argued that there is a primary difference between commercial activities and religious activities. The restriction violation penalties are of different degrees. The Casinos come under strict regulations, unlike the churches.
The petitioners argued that certain constitutional freedoms could not curtail even in a crisis. The Government cannot use the excuse of the crisis to override equal treatment.
Explanation of the Clause
The Free Exercise Clause requires strict scrutiny over certain clauses. Especially the restrictions on religion that are not “neutral and of general applicability”. Neutrality, in essence, means non- discriminatory. The Free Speech Clause bars any content-based discrimination. There are constitutional red lines which are drawn. These red lines include religious, racial and content-based discrimination.
The majority of the judges denied the application without opinion publication. The dissent judgments argued that the precedent of the Court bars even “subtle deviation from neutrality”. Justice Gorsuch noted that the priority of Caesar’s palace over Calvary Chapel is discrimination. Justice Kavanaugh agreed and added to Justice Alito’s dissent. They stated that the transmission rates in commercial venues aren’t any different than in churches. As long as the churches are following the safety measures, they should be allowed to exercise their freedom.
The Supreme Court affirmed the ninth circuit. They also denied the injunction relief to the petitioners.
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