From The New York Times:
The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request from a church in Nevada to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members to form a majority.
The court’s brief order was unsigned and gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices act on emergency applications. The court’s four more conservative members filed three dissents, totaling 24 pages.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Dayton, Nev., argued that the state treated houses of worship less favorably than it did casinos, restaurants and amusement parks. Those businesses have been limited to 50 percent of their fire-code capacities, while houses of worship have been subject to a flat 50-person limit.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in a dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett M. Kavanaugh, wrote that the distinction made no sense.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” he wrote. “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. But the governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.”
“A public health emergency does not give governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists,” Justice Alito wrote.
The court considered a similar objection from a California church in May, and it rejected it by the same 5-to-4 vote. But Justice Alito, who dissented in the earlier case, said the new one was more troubling in light of the differing treatment of casinos and churches.
“That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise,” he wrote, “but this court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing.”