President Trump's campaign is holding an "Evangelicals for Trump" event on Thursday at a Las Vegas hotel and casino, amid a controversial ban in the state on gatherings of more than 50 people in houses of worship while places like casinos are subject to a less stringent 50 percent capacity limit.
The event is scheduled to take place at the Ahern Hotel and Convention Center, one of the many joint hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. It will feature Trump spiritual adviser Pastor Paula White, megachurch Pastor Jentezen Franklin, Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and others. The full event title is "Evangelicals for Trump: Praise, Prayer and Patriotism."
"In a time when many Nevadans can’t go to church because of overreaching restrictions, President Trump’s campaign is bringing together evangelicals from across the community to pray, worship and discuss key issues facing Americans in the November election," Trump 2020 deputy national press secretary Ken Farnaso said in a statement.
The Nevada rule was subject to a recent Supreme Court challenge by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley – a church in the same ministry as Hibbs' Calvary Chapel Chino Hills – that objected to the flat 50-person cap on attendees at religious gatherings.
The church, after being ruled against by lower courts, appealed to the Supreme Court for an injunction, which was denied. All of the Republican-appointed justices except for Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the court's decision not to grant the injunction. Leading the way with a blistering dissent was Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was Trump's first addition to the court in 2017.
"In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion," Gorsuch wrote. "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 state of Nevada has defended its order vigorously, leaning on the broad police powers given to states during emergencies like the current coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 150,000 Americans – more Americans than died during World War I.
"Here, Calvary would have this court substitute its judgment on public health pertaining to a novel coronavirus for that of Nevada’s officials responsible for public health," the state said in a Supreme Court brief. "At this uncertain moment, where the Constitution reserves public emergency powers to states like Nevada, Calvary and its counsel should not be allowed to continually second-guess Nevada’s efforts to protect public health against a novel, highly contagious virus."
But Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a separate dissent in the case joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh – another Trump appointee – pointed out that not only will "[p]reventing congregants from worshiping ... cause irreparable harm" under the Constitution's strict protection of religious liberty, but that there was little difference in the nature of gatherings at a church or a casino, unlike past cases that have upheld restrictions favoring places like retail stores over churches.
"In casinos and other facilities granted preferential treatment under the directive, people congregate in large groups and remain in close proximity for extended periods," just like churches, Alito wrote.
The office of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, who put in place the restrictions that led to the high-profile lawsuit, referred Fox News to Las Vegas when asked for comment on the Trump event. A spokesperson for the city told Fox News that it has contacted the organizers of the "Evangelicals for Trump" event and reminded them to follow coronavirus-mitigating regulations, including social distancing and wearing face masks. Hibbs, in a tweet, said the "event will fill up to capacity..."
Farnaso, in a statement, touted Trump's record on issues like judicial appointments, which have been front-burner issues for the evangelical community targeted by the campaign's Thursday event.
"President Trump has appointed 200 conservative judges, he has fought for international religious freedom, and supported staunchly pro-life polices," he said. "President Trump is an ally for our religious communities in the White House. Joe Biden is pushing a socialist agenda with taxpayer-funded abortions and would trounce on religious liberties. It couldn’t be more clear that President Trump is the only candidate who will fight for the values of evangelical voters."