Nevada to Loosen Exceptional Limitation to Places of Worship After DOJ Stepped In

May 27, 2020 Updated: May 27, 2020

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced on Tuesday night that the unparalleled restriction against houses of worship will be lifted on Friday.

“In Phase 2 [of reopening], places of worship may reopen their doors for gatherings with a maximum of 50 people attending a service at a time and strict social distancing of at least six feet,” Sisolak said in a prepared statement. “This aligns with our new guidance on all public and private gatherings.”

However, he urged the churches to “continue to provide online or virtual services as much as possible,” citing places of worship as hotspots of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak in Nevada.

Gyms, fitness facilities, spas, massages services, water parks, museums, and some other businesses are also scheduled to reopen during phase 2 starting from Friday, Sisolak said.

Casinos will reopen on June 4.

Sisolak made the announcement during a planned press conference. He skipped the event and sent a prepared announcement instead because he had visited a workplace where one employee tested positive.

His office learned the testing result of the worker on Tuesday.

“Upon learning of the exposure, the Governor’s Office took immediate and responsible actions to limit the Governor’s exposure. Out of an abundance of caution, the Governor is cancelling his in-person press conference, pending COVID-19 test results,” Sisolak’s office said in a statement.

Las Vegas Church Nevada
The shuttered Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is seen through a fence with a closed sign posted at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Las Vegas, Nev., as a result of the statewide lockdown due to the continuing spread of the CCP virus across the United States on March 28, 2020. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The governor’s announcement came after the Justice Department (DOJ) pointed out that he singled out the places of worship during phase one of reopening.

In an April 29 order (pdf) about phase one reopening, Sisolak allowed in-person or on-premises dining in restaurants with limitation to no more than 50 percent of available seating capacity.

Hair and nail salons are also authorized to re-open without limitation on the number of patrons during phase one.

However, in-person worship services of 10 or more people are prohibited from late March. Only drive-up religious services with social distancing are permitted.

In a letter (pdf) to the Democratic governor, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada Nicholas Trutanich demanded him to halt the exceptional limitation.

“We recognize your duty to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Nevada during this unprecedented time,” Dreiband and Trutanich wrote in the May 25 letter. “But … churches and other faith-based organizations are currently subject to restrictions that other businesses and groups are not.”

“To protect constitutional values, we urge you to help preserve the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by amending earlier Emergency Directives and remedying their unequal treatment of places of worship,” they said.

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