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Federal judge upholds cap on services after Las Vegas church sued

Updated June 10, 2020 - 8:13 am

A federal judge denied motions from Calvary Chapel that would allow it to reopen at 50 percent capacity after the church sued state officials over COVID-19 closures.

The church’s Lone Mountain and Dayton locations each filed lawsuits against Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Justin Luna, Nevada’s emergency management chief, last month after churches throughout the state were forced to close under an emergency order from the governor.

“It’s very disappointing,” said attorney Sigal Chattah, who represents Calvary Chapel. “We’re disappointed that casinos are allowed to have spectators,” such as crowds that gather to watch acrobatics shows at Circus Circus, “where the state argued that live spectator events are not allowed.”

A response filed by Deputy Solicitor General Craig Newby argues that the state considers crowds in or around casinos as strictly engaged in “commerce,” while church services constitute a “mass gathering,” arguing that each involve different types of person-to-person contact over differing lengths of time.

The state also argued that the executive branch of Nevada’s government is responsible for responding to public health crises and that the judicial branch “should not substitute its judgment for that of the governor.”

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware followed precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 28, in which it denied a similar injunction filed by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church against California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Chattah said Boulware did not immediately see evidence that the church had been penalized for breaking social distancing guidelines, but Calvary Chapel still has the chance to come forward again if it finds itself the subject of fines or enforcement over infractions for which casinos are left alone.

Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain plans to appeal Boulware’s decision before any unconstitutional enforcement can happen, she said.

Ford’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

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