Two churches in New Mexico are facing steep fines for holding worship services on Christmas Eve — gatherings the Democratic governor deemed “illegal and selfish.”
Legacy Church and Calvary Church in Albuquerque were caught by government officials after posting video footage and photos of their respective services online, KOAT-TV reported. The clips showed hundreds of congregants gathered together, many allegedly not wearing masks.
State government officials have slapped each church with $10,000 in fines.
On Dec. 15, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) made the unilateral decision to limit church gatherings in “red counties,” where COVID-19 case counts are higher, to 25% capacity. She also ordered all parishioners to wear masks.
In a scathing statement rebuking the pastors for hosting worship services at their churches, Grisham condemned the Christian leaders as “pro-virus” and rebuked churchgoers for attending “selfish and illegal” faith-based gatherings.
“In violating both the state public health order and common sense, these two churches and their leaders endangered the lives, livelihoods, and health of not only their parishioners but their entire communities — and, given how quickly this virus can spread, potentially our state as a whole,” Grisham told NBC News. “We all wish this pandemic were over, but it’s not, and no pro-virus pastor may deem it so.”
“So many New Mexicans have sacrificed — and lost — so much in this pandemic,” she continued in her rebuke. “These illegal and selfish gatherings will directly contribute to more suffering and illness in our state. These church leaders should reflect on the danger they’ve unleashed in their communities.”
It’s worth noting Grisham sparked an entirely different tone over the summer, when Black Lives Matter protests and riots were breaking out all across New Mexico and the country.
At the time, Grisham said: “I want to wholeheartedly commend the thousands of New Mexicans who peacefully protested in Albuquerque.”
According to data released by the New Mexico government, the state has confirmed 141,186 cases of COVID-19, 9,614 hospitalizations, and 2,436 deaths. The state has a population of more than two million people.
Legacy Church, in a statement released following news of the fines, said it has “taken the pandemic seriously from the start and have prudent measures in place” to keep congregants safe.
“But when governments exceed their constitutional authority and contradict what we are called on by God to do, we answer first to His authority,” the statement added.
A spokesperson for Legacy Church told KRQE-TV:
It’s tragic that what we do for thousands of shut-ins, those in despair, and kids who go without meals gets no state notice, but fixation on one service can net us large fines. The state should fold its losing hand against churches, … focus on the truly vulnerable, and recognize what the U.S. Supreme Court has recently said about churches, because we must continue to do what we are called to.
In its own statement, Calvary Church told the news outlet they would not turn away any person who wanted to participate in the worship service for Christmas Eve, “one of the most celebrated and sacred days of our Christian faith.”
“Church staff provided masks for those who did not have one,” the statement read. “We observed the majority of those attending services wore a mask as they entered. If a person refused to wear a mask, we assumed they had a preexisting health condition or other restriction that prohibited them from doing so.”
The statement continued:
We acknowledge that some will disagree with our decisions, and we respect their freedom to believe differently. We do care about people’s physical health, and we take great precautions such as those mentioned above. At the same time, we believe that people can be responsible adults and make their own choices about their life and health and that of their families. The strong showing in attendance at Christmas Eve services indicates the deep conviction many people have that corporate worship is essential and that as long as health considerations are maintained, it is safe and necessary to worship their God. We believe our collective ability to maintain differences as fellow citizens regarding the questions raised are an essential part of our national heritage.”
For its part, Legacy Church has called its worship services “peaceful protests” in hopes of avoiding Grisham’s ire.