CARSON CITY–The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed its order upholding Governor Steve Sisolak’s restrictions on gatherings at places of worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked New York from implementing similar emergency directives, citing unlawful restriction of Free Exercise.
In a statement following the ruling, Sisolak said he was disappointed by the decision but will respect and comply with the order.
“I continue to encourage Nevadans to practice their religious faiths in a manner that is safe for them and their families, particularly with the upcoming holidays,” he said. “I have often talked to Nevadans about my personal faith and I will continue to participate in virtual masses at this time.”
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley brought the lawsuit against the governor and others earlier this year challenging Emergency Directive 021 which limited indoor gatherings larger than 50 in a variety of settings including churches. The plaintiff said gathering the church’s members together in one building “is central to [its] expression of [its] faith in Jesus Christ.”
Following the court’s reversal, Sisolak issued revised guidance for places of worship limiting them to 25% of fire code capacity, and upholding other health restrictions including social distancing, masks or face coverings and staggered services.
Ultimately, the governor recommends drive-up or online services “to the greatest extent possible” as Nevada continues to see a high degree of community spread of COVID-19. As of Dec. 14, all counties in Nevada, with the exception of Eureka and Storey, have been flagged for elevated disease transmission and all have high rates of test positivity, according to Nevada Health Response.
“There is no doubt that your faithful followers will continue looking to you as role models during these challenging times,” Sisolak said. “As respected and trusted leaders in our communities, I ask that you continue to do all you can to protect your worshippers and the faithful, especially when COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are at an all-time high in Nevada.
“In an effort to protect the most vulnerable among us and care for our neighbors during this difficult time, I am asking all faith leaders and houses of worship to implement the public health measures that are proven to mitigate the spread.”
He also thanked faith leaders for their ongoing support during the pandemic.
“To the vast majority of faith leaders throughout Nevada, I know this has been a difficult year as you’ve worked to lead the faithful while trying to keep them safe from this devastating virus. Many of you have had to provide not just spiritual support and guidance, but also counseling and community support to your followers. I want to express my gratitude to you for making sure Nevadans are taking care of Nevadans.”
Ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2020/12/15/20-16169.pdf