Christina Rodriguez & Kai Porter
Updated: December 29, 2020 05:43 PM
Created: December 29, 2020 08:07 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Legacy Church and Calvary Church are both facing $10,000 fines for violating the state's public health order.
Videos and photos posted online have gone viral — showing hundreds gathered at both churches during Christmas Eve services with almost no masks in sight.
The state's Public Health Department issued fines to both megachurches Monday for not requiring churchgoers to wear masks and for going over capacity limits.
The latest public health order, issued Dec. 15, states that places of worship in red-level counties, like Bernalillo, may not operate at more than 25% capacity.
Legacy Church provided the following statement to KOB 4:
“We have taken the pandemic seriously from the start, and have prudent measures in place. But when governments exceed their constitutional authority and contradict what we are called on by God to do, we answer first to His authority.”
Legacy Church sued the state earlier this year after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expanded her ban on mass gatherings to include places of worship back in April. The lawsuit was dismissed by a district court judge in July.
Recently, two former members of Calvary Church started a petition after they say church leaders have been guilting people into attending services in person.
As of Tuesday, 2,403 New Mexicans have died of COVID-19. The state has reported a total of 139,875 cases.
Calvary Church provided the following statement to KOB 4:
"Calvary Church experienced significant attendance at our in-person Christmas Eve services on one of the most celebrated and sacred days of our Christian faith. In response to this outpouring, Calvary Church 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. As for all our services, church seating was staggered in the main auditoriums with every other row cordoned off so people were kept from sitting directly behind or in front of anyone outside their immediate family. Moreover, to ensure safety and distancing, an outside screen was provided for people to be in the open air while enjoying the worship broadcast originating from the auditorium. Additional and separate large rooms were available for seating in order to maintain acceptable spacing. Church staff was diligent to monitor allowable percentages, while encouraging people to choose outside seating or seating in the overflow rooms. Church staff provided masks for those who did not have one. 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.
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."
Both churches have the chance to request a hearing to contest the fines.
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