Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a church filed a federal lawsuit Friday against Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and other state officials for allowing restaurants and stores to operate at 50% capacity while continuing to restrict churches to gatherings of less than 10 people as part of the stateâ€™s reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The church, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, is also requesting court orders that would immediately halt enforcement of the church gathering ban while the lawsuit moves forward.
â€œIf groups of people can meet, then the state canâ€™t play favorites,â€� said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. â€œThe government can certainly prioritize public health and safety, but it canâ€™t move businesses and non-religious activities to the front of the line for reopening and push churches to the back. Thatâ€™s not constitutional, and thatâ€™s why we filed suit.â€�
Among the exceptions to Sisolakâ€™s gathering restrictions, restaurants can resume on-site dining at 50% capacity, all retail establishments can open at 50% capacity, and nail salons, hair salons, and barber shops can resume business. But the governor has refused to allow churches and other places of worship to open their doors to 10 or more people under any circumstance.
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley is located in Lyon County. As of May 20, Carson City Health and Human Services reported that the county has only 16 active cases of COVID-19. With a population of approximately 57,510, the per capita rate of active infections is approximately 0.028%.
The church wishes to resume in-person worship services that would amount to less than 50% of its buildingâ€™s capacity on May 31 and has developed comprehensive social distancing and health and safety protocols to govern those services. Despite these health and safety measures, however, the governorâ€™s church gathering ban threatens the church with criminal and civil penalties.
â€œThe governorâ€™s refusal to allow churches to reopen commensurate with what is allowed for businesses and other groups is baseless,â€� said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. â€œThe Constitution doesnâ€™t allow the governor to make arbitrary decisions as to who can meet and who canâ€™t.â€�
Jason D. Guinasso, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the church in Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.