State Watch

New Mexico fines two megachurches $10K each over packed Christmas Eve services

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New Mexico officials fined two megachurches $10,000 each after they hosted packed Christmas Eve services last week. 

Legacy Church and Calvary Church in Albuquerque, N.M., were shown in photos on the church’s Instagram accounts to have held services with large crowds of people, many of whom were not wearing masks, city station KOB 4 and ABC affiliate KOAT reported

The packed services were held despite state restrictions instituted Dec. 15 that limit worship services to 25 percent capacity and require masks. Each violation amounted to a $5,000 fine. 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham condemned the churches, with her spokesperson Tripp Stelnicki saying they violated “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,” he said. 

“These illegal and selfish gatherings will directly contribute to more suffering and illness in our state,” he added. “These church leaders should reflect on the danger they’ve unleashed in their communities.”

Legacy Church told NBC News on Wednesday that state officials overstepped “their constitutional authority” and were countering “what we are called on by God to do.”

“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 statement read. 

Legacy Church filed a lawsuit against the state earlier this year after Grisham limited gatherings at places of worship, but the lawsuit was dismissed in July, according to KOB 4. 

The other church, Calvary Church, told The Hill that the house of worship “chose not to break fellowship with any worshiper by requiring them to leave the gathering of their church family.”

“Instead, we continued to urge and provide opportunity for our congregants to maintain safe social distance, wear face coverings, and properly sanitize,” the statement continued. 

Calvary Church said it has “labored dutifully to maintain our state’s requirements since they’ve been implemented,” noting it offers online worship options and contactless in-person services with face coverings and social distancing. 

The church cited that the public health order allows “a certain number of individuals and families who believe that they have an essential need to gather together with other believers” can do so.

“For these congregants, the risks of a complete lockdown to their spiritual, mental, and emotional health are equal to or greater than the risk of COVID-19 to their physical health,” the church said. “It is for this reason and others that we believe a healthy local church is an essential operation of a healthy community.”

New Mexico has confirmed 141,186 COVID-19 cases, 9,614 hospitalizations and 2,436 fatalities throughout the pandemic, according to state data

Johns Hopkins University data indicates that over the past week New Mexico has recorded an about 8.25 percent positive rate, higher than the recommended 5 percent but better than most states in the country. 

Updated at 11:15 a.m.

Tags Albuquerque Christmas Christmas Eve church churches Coronavirus coronavirus restrictions COVID-19 fines megachurches Michelle Lujan Grisham New Mexico Pandemic Religion

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