The New Mexico governor’s office labeled pastors as “pro-virus” after two megachurches were fined $10,000 for holding large, unmasked Christmas Eve services.
Legacy Church and Calvary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, posted pictures and videos of the services in question on their Instagram accounts where they quickly went viral, KOAT-TV reported.
Legacy’s video showed hundred gathered, with few masks, in a building singing “Silent Night.” The video has since been taken down.
Calvary posted photos of its service, which showed a few masks as well.
Albuquerque is part of Bernalillo County, which directed Houses of Worship to limit their capacity to 25 percent to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Both churches have been fined $5,000 for violating the public health order limiting their capacity and $5,000 for violating the mask mandate.
“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,” director of communications for Grisham Tripp Stelnicki said.
“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.”
Stelnicki added, “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.”
Legacy Church responded that they take the pandemic seriously and have measures in place to limit its spread, “but when governments exceed their constitutional authority and contradict what we are called on by God to do, we answer first to His authority.”
“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 church said in a statement to KOAT.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there have been 144,142 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 2,502 deaths from the virus.
Calvary Church told KOB-TV that they care about people’s health and have taken precautions for people who choose to attend services.
“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 church said in a statement.
“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.”
Both churches can request a hearing to contest the fines if they choose.
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