“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” – so the saying goes. And in this case, what happened in Vegas really must stay there.
In June, Nevada’s governor extended his “Phase II” reopening order through July. The problem is that the order treats Nevada’s casinos better than its churches. Under the order, churches are only allowed to admit 50 people total — regardless of building size or precautions taken. Casinos, however, are permitted to open at 50% of their occupancy limit, so for the state’s massive casinos, that can mean thousands of patrons in a building, often in close proximity to one another.
Even more disappointment came late Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Nevada order treating houses of gambling better than houses of worship could continue. Once again, it was Chief Justice Roberts who joined the Court’s liberal wing to reject the Nevada churches’ appeal for relief from this obviously discriminatory order.
Justice Gorsuch, one of the Court’s newest justices appointed by President Trump, best responded to the decision in a sharply worded dissent:
“In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. 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 Nevada order remains in effect through the end of this month, unless extended again by the governor.
So what does this mean for other churches and pastors? What happened in Vegas must stay in Vegas.
When it comes to states reopening amidst the COVID crisis, Chief Justice Roberts has made one thing clear — that the judiciary must give significant respect and deference to elected lawmakers, like Nevada’s governor, who make decisions for their citizens, especially in times of crisis.
In other words, U.S. Supreme Court justices are not elected by the people of the United States, and therefore, they are not accountable to the people. Governors and legislators are elected by the people, so if they are making poor decisions on our behalf — decisions that harm our right to freely worship, exercise our religion, or share our faith — then we must be the ones to hold them accountable for those decisions.
Here are three practical ways the Body of Christ can work to keep what happened in Vegas, in Vegas:
- Be a light in your community. Light shines brightest in the darkness, and there is no denying the depth of darkness that exists right now. If your church can help meet community needs or find ways to provide hope, not only will you be showing the love of Christ to your community, you will also find that your local political leaders may be more willing to engage in practical conversations with you.
- Engage with elected leaders. Many elected leaders do not understand the importance of corporate worship. Some have not even considered the role of churches when making COVID-related reopening decisions. The voice of churches and pastors is critical in this process, and the only way public officials will hear that voice is if pastors and churches are willing to engage with these leaders. This can be yet another opportunity to reflect the Gospel to your community.
- Hold leaders accountable. When elected leaders make decisions that place unconstitutional burdens on our religious freedom or place greater restrictions on churches than secular entities, it is right and appropriate to hold those leaders accountable with our voices and our votes. In our system of government, the people are entrusted with the great responsibility and privilege of ensuring that their political leaders do not trespass on rights that are given not by government, but by God, including our right to worship Him. Indeed, we hope people of all faiths hold Nevada’s governor responsible for his decision to harm religious freedom in that state.
What happened in Vegas will not stay there if the Body of Christ simply places its trust in unelected judges to protect us. Instead, we must stand firm, speak up, and take action in a “manner worthy of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Together, let us fight to preserve our freedom to worship so that many more might find their freedom in Christ!
May He find His Church worthy during these times,
Pastor Vince Torres
President, Family Policy Alliance of New Mexico
Vice President of Strategy, Family Policy Alliance