Nevada governor mulls church changes as court battle resumes

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Gov. Steve Sisolak gives an update on the state's COVID-19 response, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool)

RENO, Nev. – Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday he is pursuing the possibility of easing COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings as a rural church pushes forward with its legal effort to strike down the current 50-person cap as unconstitutional.

Lawyers for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley filed new briefs in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly refused its bid in July for an emergency order suspending the hard cap.

Sisolak, who is Catholic, said Thursday he has asked his advisers to review whether the state can ease that restriction, among others, and allow churches to expand how many people can attend.

“We’ve been researching different approaches in terms of how to do that, and using best practices that have been developed in other states," he said at a news conference in Las Vegas.

"Trust me, I want to get back to church. I want to go back to mass live instead of watching it on my phone every weekend," he said.

The Democratic governor did not have a timeline for when he would announce a decision or any specific benchmarks necessary to make a change.

Calvary Chapel's lawyers are emphasizing the three dissenting opinions from the high court's 5-4 decision in their latest bid to prove that parishioners' religious freedoms are being violated partly because casinos and others are allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

Other secular businesses allowed to operate at half capacity include restaurants, gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and water parks.