SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) –In an update to the state’s Public Health Order on Friday, April 23, 2021, houses of worship can operate at 100% capacity if they choose to do so no matter the color-coded risk level of their county. According to the press secretary for the Governor’s Office, the change was made following recent Supreme Court decisions that struck down coronavirus mandates for indoor worship services.
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The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the limit on indoor worship capacity in a California case ruling that the state couldn’t enforce coronavirus public health mandates. The order will take effect on Friday, and will remain in effect through May 21, 2021.
Several churches have challenged the capacity limits which were previously based on the color the county, ranging from 25% for Red counties to 75% for Turquoise counties. Some churches were even fined for breaking the limits. The Supreme Court says capacity limits cannot be more restrictive on churches than other entities like factories and schools.
All schools opened at full capacity on April 5. The state, however, strongly encourages houses of worship to protect their congregants by practicing social distancing measures to minimize the risk of coronavirus spread.
Pastors don’t expect 100% of their congregation to come back right away but hope the governor’s announcement inspires them. “My hope is that this announcement by the governor’s office is a sign to people that the governor’s office and Health Department believe it’s safe enough for churches to operate at 100%, for them to make this decision, we believe they’re saying to the community, it’s safe to come back to church, so we are going to be ready,” said Executive Pastor at Calvary Church Nate Heitzig.
Heitzig says Calvary Church will be open at 100% capacity this weekend. Leaders are encouraging people to wear a mask and social distance on campus.
Faith Church in Rio Rancho already rearranged its sanctuary to allow for 100% capacity this weekend. “I think it’ll be kind of an excitement, similar to Easter or Christmas or some of those days but it’ll also be unique and weird as people are navigating some of the different senses and feelings and I think there will be a sense of shock,” said Mike McDonald, pastor at Faith Church of Rio Rancho.
McDonald says they are keeping their ‘over flow’ rooms open. People who still prefer more space can sit in them during service.
Meanwhile, Legacy Church sent the following statement:
“We are glad the court has recognized our God-given right to assemble and worship without needing the governor’s permission. But it’s tragic that the state has stubbornly stuck to dictatorial measures that have done more harm than good.”
The governor’s office is encouraging churches to stay below capacity before Friday, churches in yellow counties were limited to 33% capacity and could only go up to 75% capacity if they reached the turquoise level. KRQE News 13 reached out to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to see what they are going to do. They said they would forward the question to church leadership, but as of yet, haven’t gotten an answer.