Evangelicals for Trump held a prayer and praise event at a Las Vegas casino Thursday night, circumventing the state's restrictions on church gatherings that are not imposed on casinos.
More than 500 evangelicals attended the event held at the Ahern Hotel, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The hotel lobby’s maximum capacity is 1,600 which allowed the event to follow the 50% capacity rule for hotels and casinos.
Featured speakers at the event included Paula White, head the White House's Faith and Opportunity Initiative, and members of the president's evangelical advisory board, Pastor Jentezen Franklin and Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., along with Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, California, who reopened his church on Pentecost Sunday.
Ralph Reed, chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, shared a video from the event that was retweeted by Vice President Mike Pence. Reed and hundreds of others sang and prayed together before speakers shared why they planned to vote for Trump. In Reed’s video, most attendees wore masks but some did not.
“Packed house at #EvangelicalsForTrump prayer & praise event in Las Vegas, Reed tweeted. “NV Governor banned church services but casinos can operate at 50% capacity. So we are praying in a casino.”
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has imposed restrictions on faith communities that limit gatherings at houses of worship to 50 people while allowing secular entities like hotels, casinos, and gyms to operate at 50% capacity, with no limit on attendees.
City and state officials objected to the Evangelicals for Trump event, warning that it violated the 50-person gathering rule. The Las Vegas City Council even contacted event organizers in an attempt to cancel it.
“Governor Sisolak’s Directive 021, Section 10, mandates that ‘the Nevada general public shall not gather in groups of more than fifty in any indoor or outdoor area. … Your compliance is mandatory,” said Robert Summerfield, director of planning Las Vegas City Council in the letter to Evangelicals for Trump obtained by Fox News affiliate KVVU.
The letter also referred to the gathering as a “public nuisance” and threatened the Ahern Hotel with fines and future license suspensions. Police also attempted to stop the event multiple times after it began but were halted by Trump’s legal team who were at the event, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The event hosted preachers from multiple regions and backgrounds who advocated for Trump’s reelection after prayer and singing came to an end. One point made by multiple pastors was Trump’s appointment of judges who oppose abortion.
Franklin of the multi-site Free Chapel in Georgia praised Trump for appointing “200 federal judges and two Supreme Court Justices” during his presidency. He also said Trump is the most “pro-life and pro-religious freedom president in history” and urged attendees to vote for a continuance of the trend.
“You’re not voting for the next four years,” Franklin said. “You’re voting for the next 37 years. This president will secure the courts and secure our Constitution.”
Race relations were also discussed in the event, notably by Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland.
“Trump is not a racist; he’s a problem solver,” said Jackson, who encouraged attendees to talk about supporting Trump to their friends of color.
The event came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the plea of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Lyon County to suspend state-imposed 50-person limit for church gatherings.
In the 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts joined liberal justices to deny the church's appeal to allow the church to hold services for up to 90 members, 50% capacity, while fully complying with social-distancing rules and other required measures.
"In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion," Supreme Court Justice Neil 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,” Gorsuch’s dissent continued. “But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel."
Evangelicals for Trump is an official campaign funded by Donald J. Trump for President. The group has about 14,000 Facebook followers and has not posted plans for their next event.