Calvary Chapel: Supreme Court Challenge

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley

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Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, NV, Appeals to Supreme Court, Challenging Unconstitutional Government Mandates. A San Jose Calvary Affiliate Says the Church Will Not Close Again.

By Sean Labar

In late May, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak placed unbalanced restrictions on churches as part of the state’s reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic. Sisolak’s rule allows casinos, restaurants, bars, theme parks, and gyms to operate at 50% capacity but restricts churches to gatherings of 50 or fewer people regardless of building size. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley deemed the state’s restrictions on religious freedom as unconstitutional. After a denial by lower courts, Calvary Chapel has now filed a lawsuit against Governor Sisolak and the State of Nevada to the Supreme Court of the United States in a case titled Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak.


Two Calvary Chapel pastors are challenging government mandates and opened the doors to their churches during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gary LeistAfter hosting virtual and “drive-in” services during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, Pastor Garry Leist of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley took a stand.

There are currently around 33 active coronavirus cases in the Lyon County, where the church resides. The county has just over 52,000 people and the total cases thus far makes up just 0.4 percent of the statewide totals that have been recorded.

“If there was ever a time the church needed to be a presence in this culture, it’s a time of illness and unrest,” Pastor Garry said. “The enemy would love to silence the people of God. Christ is the head of the Church. He is the authority. I don’t have the authority to shut the church down. I’m not the one that opens it and I’m not the one that shuts it. I couldn’t close this church if I wanted to.”

Roughly 260 miles away from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley is Calvary Christian Fellowship, a Calvary Chapel affiliate in San José, California, that has faced similar mandates from the California government.

Mike McClureCalvary Chapel Christian Fellowship Pastor Mike McClure says his church has remained open since May 31st, and though he may face fines and jail time, he remains adamant he won’t close the doors again. Like Pastor Garry, Pastor Mike believes keeping the church closed poses a far greater risk to the community than opening the doors.

“People are literally dying out here from suicide and alcoholism,” Pastor Mike said. “Child abuse is up. Domestic violence is up. When I originally said we are going to remain open, it wasn’t about defying the governor. We’ve just forgotten God. We’ve forgotten the importance of the church. We’ve forgotten how essential the church is. The only reason we are “non-essential” is because we have allowed them to put us in that non-essential bracket. We have to say no, we aren’t going to do that anymore. I think they are wrong. You can’t tell me what I can’t do anymore. How dare you come into the church and tell us what we can’t do.”

Over the last few months, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley worked its way up the judicial ladder all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals before ultimately filing the case to the Supreme Court. The church is refusing to give into the restrictions that not only violate the constitution but defy reasonable sense and logic.

While the lawsuit remains pending, Pastor Garry—just like Pastor Mike in San Jose—is keeping the church doors open despite government mandates. Instead of two in-person services on Sunday, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley now has three services at limited capacity. Additionally, Pastor Garry has governed the service with health and safety protocols while abiding by social distancing practices.

Pastor Garry points to one firm reason for the importance of meeting in-person, instead of hosting virtual services.

“If we are not meeting, then we are not fulfilling what God wants us to do as a church,” Pastor Garry said. “We have to come together in-person so the Spirit of God in you, and in me, has the ability to do His work personally. If we don’t meet, the thing He gave me for you, you don’t get. If you don’t come to church, you’re missing out on a gift, and missing out on the gift the Spirit of God gave you to give to someone else. That is what you cannot do over the Internet. You’re not going to be challenged. The church right now is becoming physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sick by not meeting.”


On July 8, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to immediately halt enforcement of Nevada Governor Sisolak’s unbalanced restrictions on churches as part of the state’s reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a controversial 5-4 decision on July 24, a divided Supreme Court denied the Calvary Chapel affiliate’s request to extend church attendee limits beyond the 50-person limit stated in the official Nevada public health order.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley Pastor Garry Leist clarified the ruling and reminded Christians to stay in the fight and take a stand as the case progresses. “We got shot down on our emergency injunction filed to the Supreme Court, but remember, it’s just that, it’s for emergency relief, not relief for the entire case,” Pastor Garry said. “As time goes on, there are going to be more opportunities for the case to continue. For right now, the Supreme Court didn’t find a necessity to act on our emergency request. We need not to get discouraged. This is God’s fight and it’s our place to stay in it and take a stand.”

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t shy about voicing his displeasure with the preliminary ruling after he voted in favor of the Calvary Chapel.

“In my view, Nevada’s discrimination against religious services violates the Constitution,” Kavanaugh said. “To be clear, a State’s closing or reopening plan may subject religious organizations to the same limits as secular organizations. And in light of the devastating COVID–19 pandemic, those limits may be very strict. But a State may not impose strict limits on places of worship and looser limits on restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms, at least without sufficient justification for the differential treatment of religion. As I will explain, Nevada has thus far failed to provide a sufficient justification, and its current reopening plan therefore violates the First Amendment.”

For now, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley will continue to hold services while the case remains pending. The church is focused on safety—but is still going against the Nevada government mandate. As it stands, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing the constitutionality of the case, so the case remains paused until that decision is made.


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.