RENO — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in favor of two Nevada churches that say the state's COVID-19 restrictions violate their First Amendment rights because they place harsher attendance limits on religious gatherings than casinos and other secular businesses.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed earlier federal court rulings that upheld Nevada's hard cap on the size of worship services. It instructed the district judges to preliminary enjoin Nevada from imposing attendance limits for churches stricter than those for other gatherings or businesses.
"The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty," a three-member appellate panel wrote in an 11-page opinion reversing the lower court ruling denying a preliminary injunction sought by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Dayton.
The limits treat "numerous secular activities and entities significantly better than religious worship services," it said in a four-page opinion reversing a similar earlier ruling involving Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in Las Vegas.
Attendance at casinos, restaurants, bars and numerous other businesses currently are limited to 25% of capacity, but churches are subject to a hard cap of 50 people or 25% of capacity, whichever is less.