Nevada Church Wins Lawsuit Over COVID-19 Restrictions, Court Orders State To Pay $175K For Legal Fees

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley |

A church in Nevada would be reimbursed of its legal fees after winning the case against the state over its COVID restrictions on houses of worship.

The Office of the Attorney General has asked the state of Nevada to pay Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley (CCDV) with $175,000 as a tort claim. The request was reportedly approved by the Nevada Board of Examiners, The Christian Post wrote.

Susan Brown, the Board's chief, said that the payment, which will be taken from the tort claim fund, is in compliance with the lawsuit's "consent decree" requiring the state of Nevada to pay the attorney fees.

In May 2020, the church sued Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Lyon County Sheriff Frank Hunewill over the state's COVID-19 guidance, prohibiting churches to hold in-person worship services.

Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), lawyers contended that the ban violates the First Amendment's freedom of speech and religion.

"Instead of prioritizing religious freedom, the Governor has moved 'non-essential' secular businesses and activities to the front of the line and pushed churches towards the back," the lawsuit stated.

During the filing, CCDV planned to reopen its indoor worship services and requested for temporary restraining order to avoid incurring civil and criminal penalties. With the intended reopening, the church proposed that it would hold its services at 50% capacity, observe social distancing and ensure proper sanitation and cleaning of the area.

ADF lawyer Jeremiah Galus argued that churches should be treated the same like other secular establishments.

 "It becomes very clear that churches are being treated as second-class. I think the most obvious example of this is with the Governor's reopening plan where restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in services at 50% capacity," Galus noted.

But in June 2020, District Judge Richard Boulware II denied CCDV's request, saying that the church failed to prove its discrimination arguments since the cap was not enforced by the state.

"It is difficult to establish a pattern of selective enforcement directed towards places of worship when new, more restrictive measures have been imposed against secular activities and no similar restrictions were imposed on religious activities," the judge said in the ruling.

"Plaintiff's requested relief would require the court to engage in potentially daily or weekly decisions about public health measures that have traditionally been left to state officials and state agencies with expertise in this area," Boulware further wrote.

However, in December 2020, judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel granted CCDV with preliminary injunction against the state for its capacity limitation on houses of worship. During that time, the panel also predicted that the church would win the lawsuit against Gov. Sisolak over COVID-19 restrictions.

Russell Moore, then president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that the Court of Appeals "got [the] case right."

"Government cannot single out and treat churches differently from other gatherings simply because they are houses of worship. That is out of step with the First Amendment and our long American history of free exercise," Moore stated at that time.