For violating the state’s social distancing requirements, Democratic New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham fined two churches $10,000 apiece. $5,000 for violating the state’s public health restriction of 25% capacity in houses of worship and $5,000 for violating the state’s mask mandate.
Legacy Church and Calvary Church, the two houses of worship fined, were described as “megachurches” by state ABC affiliate, KOAT. The churches posted visuals of the services that got them into trouble to their Instagram account.
Video footage from Legacy Church showed what seems to be hundreds of worshipers gathered and singing “Silent Night” with very few masks and was taken down by that Sunday. Their youth group, Young and Unashamed, had the video posted on its own account until Monday night when they removed it after KOAT publicized the video.
Calvary Church posted multiple photographs of their service, with few masks in sight.
Legacy Church issued a statement saying, "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."
The church called their gathering a “peaceful protest,” likely in response to BLM and other far-left events that have taken place without any reprimand or response by Democrat-led states. They also issued an additional statement to KOAT saying, "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 as Colorado has, focus on the truly vulnerable, and recognize what the US Supreme Court has recently said about Churches because we must continue to do what we are called to.”
It was on December 15th that New Mexico’s governor issued the capacity restriction of 25% in houses of worship. Although the governor’s office didn’t state exactly how many were in attendance at the services, they levied the fines based on what was seen in the viral videos.
In response to the churches being fined, the Governor’s Director of Communications, Trepp Stelnicki, called their leaders “selfish” and “pro-virus,” and 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. 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."
SCOTUS Justice Neil Gorsuch stated in a concurring opinion that ultimately struck down the New York regulations, "Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis. At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available. See Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520, 546 (1993). Yet recently, during the COVID pandemic, certain States seem to have ignored these long-settled principles."