Nevada governor's church directive raising constitutional scrutiny

Posted at 4:55 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 12:22:44-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Some local churches are hoping Gov. Steve Sisolak will have a change of heart when it comes to allowing drive-thru gatherings on Easter Sunday.

As of Friday, no church is allowed to hold an indoor or outdoor service if there are more than 10 people due to the governor's orders to keep the spread of COVID-19 in check.

RELATED: Gov. Sisolak updates COVID-19 deaths, orders golf courses to close

And don't expect to see mass gatherings in church parking lots this coming Easter Sunday either.

"This is for me an overreach, and I know you're trying to be cautious. We're cautious. We'll wear masks on Sunday; we'll wear gloves," said Pastor Paul Goulet, with the International Church of Las Vegas.

The church says it has already canceled in-person services but was planning on having a drive-thru service with parishioners remaining in their cars. However, Gov. Sisolak's newest directive bans that.

"They want the ability for those that can make it in their cars. They want the ability to be in these parking lots across the city," Goulet said.

Pastors say the directive infringes on the first amendment on conducting worship.

"The fact is you have no right at all according to our constitution to tell us what we can and cannot do when it comes to worship." Pastor David Teis, of Liberty Baptist Church, said.

Goulet also said the services could help with mental health for those coping with economic hardships.

"They need help, so they're not depressed. I spoke with someone today who wanted to put a gun in his face and blow his head off because of what he is going through. His business is shut down. They need spiritual support," Goulet said.

Gov. Sisolak heard the concerns but said safety is his priority.

"I have spent countless hours praying on this myself and talking with faith leaders. My primary purpose is to keep people alive and stop the spread of this disease," Sisolak said.

Pastors say they want to work with the governor and are urging him to listen.

RELATED: Vegas pastors raise concern over Gov. Sisolak's directive on churches

"Please reconsider your decision. We're asking you politely. We're asking you with all of our hearts," Goulet said.

Matt Hoffmann, a lawyer with Battle Born Injury Lawyers, says there is constitutional merit to the pastor's arguments.

"You get the constitutional arguments with freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, you've got private organization arguments," he said.

Hoffmann says he understands the pastor's frustration with the directives being put in place so close to Easter, and the governor's actions.

"I think this is what everyone is saying that this has been somewhat of an ad hoc, make it up as you go situation and I get it, we've never had a situation like this," he said.

Hoffmann says the governor has used his emergency powers within the context of the statute so far in the name of public safety and health.

Hoffmann also says the powers that are delegated to the governor remain debatable.

"It's always a balancing approach. We want to have our governor quickly without red tape, take decisive action. However, there are boundaries. There are always boundaries about how far you can go, and what is legal with the constitutional exercise of those powers," he said.

The pastors say so far, and they have canceled drive-thru services unless the governor changes his mind.