U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has cast a deciding vote alongside the court’s liberal wing in several recent cases, including one decision announced this week.
For the second time in a row, Roberts led a 5-4 majority in rejecting an appeal from churches claiming that state restrictions are being unfairly used against them, as reported by The Hill.
Origins of the case
The most recent case stems from a complaint regarding the Nevada law limiting churches to 50 people while casinos, restaurants, and amusement parks are allowed up to 50% their building code capacity.
Calvary Chapel Dayton alley filed the suit, which had been rejected by two lower courts before reaching the Supreme Court.
While the ruling was not signed and did not include a statement explaining the decision, the court’s conservatives filed three separate dissents.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the freedom to exercise religion is guaranteed in the Constitution, which “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.”
He went on to say that Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak “apparently has different priorities.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) was among the conservative officials who criticized Roberts for the vote, declaring that he “once again got it wrong, shamefully closing church doors to their flocks.”
A similar ruling in May came in response to a California church’s opposition to restrictions in that state. At that time, Roberts acknowledged the guidelines do restrict church gatherings, but did not appear to violate the First Amendment.
“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” he concluded.
The First Amendment is clear, declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” If anything, that seems to suggest that religious gatherings should be less restricted than non-essential businesses and other gatherings.
Nevertheless, Roberts continues to side with Democratic state leaders who seem to extend more freedom to casinos and restaurants than the nation’s houses of worship.