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Why is Nevada allowing more people into its casinos than its churches?

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Nevada can legally limit attendance at indoor religious services to just 50 persons. At the same time, casinos, restaurants, bars, theme parks, and gyms are allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

An employee works on slot machine seats along an empty casino floor at Caesars in Atlantic City, New Jersey July 5, 2006.
An employee works on slot machine seats along an empty casino floor at Caesars in Atlantic City, New Jersey July 5, 2006. | REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

This is a double standard. Why are houses of worship restricted to an arbitrary number — no matter how big the venue is or what safety precautions are in place — while business capacity is regulated based on the size of the venue? 

This ruling unfairly targets churches and other institutions of faith. It tells the American people that the economy is more important to our country’s recovery than our spiritual well-being.

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Data has shown otherwise. A Pew Research study found that a quarter of Americans have experienced religious growth because of COVID-19. According to the American Psychological Association, “Religion and belief are now seen by many researchers and clinicians as an important way to cope with trauma and distress.”

Americans are craving spiritual connection. That’s why revivals are happening across the country, with hundreds and thousands of people gathering in New York City and on California’s beaches for worship. It’s also why, according to American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2020 report, two-thirds of American adults now say they want to learn more about Scripture.

The actions of our courts and our governments often tell us that the stock market, political races, and our wallets should demand more of our attention than God. But with Americans’ mental health declining and substance abuse rising over the past several months, are drinking and gambling really the answer? A comprehensive 2015 review of studies on people of various faiths, ages, and races found that “religious involvement is related to better coping with stress and less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse.”

Governor Sisolak has said that religious venues should be more limited in capacity than casinos because the casinos are more closely regulated by the state, and therefore represent less of a threat to public health. But a New York Times op-ed argued that “Pastors who ignore coronavirus restrictions grab headlines. But most are being very careful about worship during the pandemic.” According to a new LifeWay Research survey, more than 70% of Protestant churches have resumed in-person services. These churches also increased safety measures: 94% of pastors said they’d provided hand sanitizer, masks or gloves, 86% conducted additional cleaning, and 76% said they had closed seats for social distancing.

What our country needs now is more opportunities for prayer, worship, spiritual connection and spiritual guidance. No one should be closed out of church because they were number 51.

The capacity of churches and other houses of worship in Nevada should be restricted by the same rules as Nevada’s businesses, if at all. The Supreme Court’s current ruling is discriminatory and threatens our country’s collective recovery. More money flowing through our economy won’t address the crises of anxiety, depression, addiction, loneliness and fear in America right now. Let’s trust our churches to worship safely and stop unjustly regulating them.

Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition

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