Hundreds gather in Belen to protest governor's restrictions on churches | KOB 4

Hundreds gather in Belen to protest governor's restrictions on churches

Tommy Lopez
Updated: September 13, 2020 10:12 PM
Created: September 13, 2020 09:31 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.  - Hundreds of churchgoers gathered in Belen Sunday, in part to protest how the state's public health order is impacting churches. Others have concerns that the demonstration and what is going on inside churches is dangerous.

The crowd grew to about 300 for a demonstration outside Belen City Hall that included speakers and live music. Only a few in the crowd were wearing masks.

The event was called Faith Over Fear. The message was, in part, that people are too afraid of COVID-19, and should be able to worship during the pandemic.

Some in the crowd said they were OK with churches being limited to 40 percent capacity.

“No, I don't think it's -- it's alright now. 25 percent, that was a little difficult. I think 40 percent, that's reasonable,” Marcella Garcia said.

Most residents, however, said they are not happy with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decisions.

“I don’t think there should be any restrictions. I think it’s our constitutional right to meet and praise our god,” Anita Hendrix said.

Many churchgoers say they're not wearing masks at church and feel safe even when they're singing.

“You can wear a mask, but we don't,” Victoria Candelaria said.

“I think they should allow people to be responsible for their own well-being and make those decisions,” Jim Greer said.

Republican State Sen. Greg Baca (R-District 29) attended the protest and has been a vocal opponent of the governor's orders in the past.

“I’m happy to see people out. I think that it’s a fundamental right to be able to go to church and worship your god,” he said.

KOB 4 asked attendees what they think about the scientific studies that show that indoor gatherings risk the spread of the virus. Here were some of their responses:

“I think that that’s still a little on the iffy side.” 

“It’s been hyped up a lot.” 

“It’s just like catching the flu. If you get it, if you’re sick, just stay home.”

Some in Belen disagree with the demonstrators’ messages.

“I see the vast majority of the people here not wearing masks, and this can then become a mass-spreading event,” Ron Lahti said.

Valencia County has had 532 positive tests since the pandemic began, which means it’s had one positive test for about every 144 residents. That's fewer cases per capita than places like Bernalillo County and far fewer than other areas that have been hotspots, like McKinley County.

The governor’s restrictions have been challenged in court by churches and restaurants, but, so far, everything has been upheld.

“Mass gatherings continue to pose great risk to the health and safety of both individuals and the wider community,” said a governor’s office spokesperson.

On the topic of singing, health experts say it can be one of the most dangerous activities when it comes to spreading COVID-19. 

“If you project your voice that you get a much further distance on your droplets when you speak versus speaking coughing sneezing versus singing. We know there are very well documented cases where a single asymptomatic person in a choir infected an entire choir,” NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in June.

Every state except California is allowing places of worship to open. Looking at ones that border New Mexico, Texas and Arizona don’t limit by capacity, but have other guidelines, and Colorado has a 50 percent occupancy limit.

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