On Thursday, President Trump’s campaign held an “Evangelicals for Trump” event at a Las Vegas hotel and casino, amid a controversial ban in the state on gatherings of more than 50 people in houses of worship while places like casinos are subject to a less stringent 50 percent capacity limit.
The event took place at the Ahern Hotel and Convention Center, a joint hotel and casino in Las Vegas. It featured Trump’s spiritual adviser Pastor Paula White, megachurch Pastor Jentezen Franklin, Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and others. The full event title was “Evangelicals for Trump: Praise, Prayer and Patriotism.”
“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,” Trump 2020 deputy national press secretary Ken Farnaso said in a statement.
The Nevada rule was subject to a recent Supreme Court challenge by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley – a church in the same ministry as Hibbs’ Calvary Chapel Chino Hills – that objected to the flat 50-person cap on attendees at religious gatherings, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
The church, after being ruled against by lower courts, appealed to the Supreme Court for an injunction, which was denied. All of the Republican-appointed justices except for Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the court’s decision not to grant the injunction. Leading the way with a blistering dissent was Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was Trump’s first addition to the court in 2017.
“In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion,” Gorsuch wrote. “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.”
The state of Nevada has defended its order vigorously, leaning on the broad police powers given to states during emergencies like the current coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 150,000 Americans, as reported by Fox News.
But Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a separate dissent in the case joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, pointed out that not only will “[p]reventing congregants from worshiping … cause irreparable harm” under the Constitution’s strict protection of religious liberty, but that there was little difference in the nature of gatherings at a church or a casino, unlike past cases that have upheld restrictions favoring places like retail stores over churches.
“In casinos and other facilities granted preferential treatment under the directive, people congregate in large groups and remain in close proximity for extended periods,” just like churches, Alito wrote.