One can only guess why Nevada's governor thought people meeting in a church were more dangerous as COVID spreaders than people gathering in casinos or bowling alleys. But when Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an edict saying only 50 people could meet in a church, but casinos could have up to 50-percent capacity, Calvary Chapel in Dayton, decided to resist and object to the obvious discrimination.
The lower District Court ruled against the church. But an appeal to the 9th Circuit led to a three-judge panel last December ruling in favor of Calvary Chapel, saying that the government could have imposed limitations on churches similar to those imposed on other entities like retail stores, while still achieving the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19, The Nevada Independent reported.
The court ruled Calvary Chapel's claim that its First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion had been hindered by the State would likely succeed on the merits. At the time of the December 2020 9th Circuit ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman representing the church called it a "significant win."
"There is no constitutional right to gamble, but there is one that protects attending worship services," he said. "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."
Calvary Chapel's Senior Pastor Garry Leist told Fox and Friends the congregation was excited about the ruling in their favor.
"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," he said.
Now the state of Nevada has agreed to pay Calvary Chapel's legal bills incurred while defending its constitutional rights.
The Nevada Board of Examiners unanimously approved a request this week from the Office of the Attorney General to pay a tort claim to Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in the amount of $175,000, according to The Christian Post.
Susan Brown, chief of the board, explained at the meeting that the $175,000 payment was "to comply with the consent decree in this case that requires the state of Nevada to pay reasonable attorney fees."