Fine reduced against Albuquerque church for Christmas Eve gathering

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Health Department has reached a final decision for a church fined for Christmas Eve services. Calvary Church was initially fined for violating the public health order’s capacity limits. KRQE is learning that the fine is less than what the state was requesting.

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New Mexico is now 100% open. However, in 2020 on Christmas Eve, there were strict restrictions across the state. Around Christmas time, churches were allowed to be at 25% capacity. On social media at the time, Calvary Church thanked everyone who came to the Christmas Eve service. Photos show the room was packed with not much social distancing.

Legacy Church also held Christmas Eve services and was cited for violating the health order. The New Mexico Department of Health fined Calvary Church $10,000 for violating capacity restrictions and the mask-wearing requirement.

An investigation concluded while Calvary Church probably had more than a thousand people at one of its services. There was no conclusive evidence to show if the capacity rule was in fact violated. The investigation found that Calvary staff did violate the mask rule. They were not responsible for making people attending the service wear a mask.

The NMDOH dropped the fine from $10,000 to $2,500. Calvary Church did not go on camera but gave the following statement:

We’re pleased by this favorable ruling yet we’re perplexed to find a portion of the fine upheld for an infraction that wasn’t even part of the original citation. We are left to wonder if the state just couldn’t clear us without slapping our wrist in an attempt to save face. One could easily assume this isn’t and never was about science but about politics and politicians picking and choosing when our First Amendment rights are available to us. On the one hand the Governor said that pastors could preach from stage with no masks, on the other hand the State Health Department has fined us now for doing just that. What did the state expect: for our pastors to deliver the Christmas message from behind a mask? The issue isn’t the amount of the fine but that there was even a fine at all for Christians worshipping over Christmas. 

To be clear: all throughout this terrible pandemic, we have sought ways to serve and encourage the people of New Mexico. At Christmas last year — one of the holiest and most important seasons for Christians — we welcomed the weary into our church to find hope and light. For this action, the Governor’s office labeled us ‘pro-virus’ pastors. More recently, the Governor called those expressing their disagreements with her ‘lizard people.’ If our elected officials spent less time name-calling and more time looking for ways to work together with all New Mexicans to offer hope and light then our state and country would be a better place for all, especially those devastated by Covid-19.

Ultimately, New Mexicans are going to have to decide at the ballot box how important freedom is to them — especially religious freedom — and that must impact which democrats, republicans or others they vote for.”

Calvary Church New Mexico

KRQE did ask Calvary if they are going to pay the $2,500 fine. They did not respond. They also have not paid the fine yet.

The Legacy Church hearing is scheduled for August 17, 2021, for their $10,000 fine. Pastor Steve Smothermon says “we will never pay them a penny. We don’t believe they have the legal authority to fine or tax the church.”

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