In Nevada, you can’t have more than 50 people meet for a religious service. However, the state’s lifeblood — casinos — can operate at 50 percent capacity, a much less strict restriction.
If you’re Evangelicals for Trump, there’s an easy workaround to that: Hold a church service in a Las Vegas casino.
The event took place at the Ahern Hotel and Convention Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, according to Fox News.
The venue is one of Vegas’ numerous facilities that combine hotel and convention space with casino facilities.
Headlined by Trump spiritual adviser Paula White, the church service took aim at the absurdity and arbitrary nature of Nevada’s worship restrictions — and received support from the Trump campaign.
“In a time when many Nevadans can’t go to church because of overreaching restrictions, President Trump’s campaign is bringing together evangelicals from across the community to pray, worship and discuss key issues facing Americans in the November election,” said Trump 2020 deputy national press secretary Ken Farnaso, according to Fox News.
Faith and Freedom Coalition chairman Ralph Reed tweeted a video of the event, showing proper social distancing.
Packed house at #EvangelicalsForTrump prayer & praise event in Las Vegas. NV Governor banned church services but casinos can operate at 50% capacity. So we are praying in a casino. pic.twitter.com/fP4xE3lPAb
— Ralph Reed (@ralphreed) August 7, 2020
Officials in Las Vegas either don’t get irony or don’t take kindly to it, because they sent the Ahern Hotel and Casino a letter saying that “a determination has been made that this gathering for over fifty (50) persons will be in violation of the governor’s current directive for public and private gatherings.”
“Your compliance is mandatory,” it stated. “Your failure to comply with all State directives and notices issued by the City may result in civil fines, license suspensions, and/or denial of your pending permanent licenses.”
This apparently ended with Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke announcing a $250 fine for both the event’s organizers and owner Don Ahern, The Associated Press reported.
Reed and White both said Trump’s legal team blocked the event’s shutdown, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The event was attended by 500 people in a venue that would have normally held 1,600; temperatures were taken and masks required.
Nevertheless, Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak took to Twitter to vent at the Trump campaign and the event organizers:
I am equally dismayed that the campaign and business defied the State of Nevada emergency directive which limits public gatherings to 50 people or fewer. (2/7)
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) August 7, 2020
“President Trump’s own campaign has ignored his experts and state law. This campaign event put more people at risk, including his supporters and the hardworking Nevadans who staffed the event,” Sisolak tweeted.
“I’m calling on President Trump to focus on the real threat to the health & lives of Nevadans & Americans: the senseless spread of COVID-19. I’m calling on President Trump to order his campaign to follow our State’s protocols & his own health care experts’ strong guidance.”
All right, governor. Close the casinos, then.
The premise of this entire argument is that religious congregants can’t socially distance, but gamblers can. Sadly, the Supreme Court agrees.
In a July 21 ruling, by a 5-4 margin, the high court ruled against Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, a Nevada church that sued the state under the premise that the governor’s order unconstitutionally discriminated against religious assemblies, according to CBN News.
The swing vote, as always, was Chief Justice John Roberts.
“The governor allows hundreds to thousands to assemble in pursuit of financial fortunes but only 50 to gather in pursuit of spiritual ones. That is unconstitutional,” the church argued in court documents, according to CBN.
“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,” Alito continued, adding Gov. Sisolak “apparently has different priorities.”
“In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion,” said Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion. The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
What Thursday revealed is that, even inside a casino, the state still views the religious individual as more of a threat than the gambler. However, nothing can keep churches from showing the absurdity of the regulations, even if the Supreme Court may disagree.
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