Calvary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico is now being asked to pay fees of up to $10,000 after allegedly refusing to comply with COVID restrictions and mask mandates during the pandemic. In December, the church was one of two major megachurches in the state that were fined for celebrating the Christmas holiday by holding big services during the season, the other being Legacy Church.
In December, the New Mexico church said it "experienced significant attendance" at its Christmas Eve services, "one of the most celebrated and sacred days of our Christian faith," KOB4 reported. Back in May, a hearing officer ruled that there was a lack of evidence indicating that the church did not comply with capacity restrictions at the time. They also found that the church staff abided by mask mandates but cannot be held accountable for churchgoers who refused to wear masks.
CBN News reported that as per the hearing officer, "There was no legal authority presented that would require a house of worship to enforce the mask requirement on attendees."
Calvary Church offered a statement in response to the state ruling on the fines they are currently facing, writing that they are "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."
The New Mexico church argued, "We are left to wonder if the state just couldn't clear us without slapping our wrist in an attempt to save face." It added,
"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."
The church's statement pointed out how New Mexico's Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, declared that pastors may preach from a stage without wearing a mask, but the state's Health Department is now issuing a fine for doing the exact same thing. It also questioned how the state expected the pastors to "deliver the Christmas message from behind a mask."
The church also argued that the amount being fined is not the issue but rather that "there was even a fine at all for Christians worshipping over Christmas."
The New Mexico church argued further that since the start of the "terrible pandemic," they have worked to "serve and encourage" the citizens of New Mexico and have "welcomed the weary" into the church to "find hope and light" amidst the chaos. They claim that the church leaders who participated in this public service were later denounced by the Democratic governor as a "'pro-virus' pastors."
On the last day of December 2020, Governor Lujan Grisham's director of communications Tripp Stelnicki accused the New Mexico church of "violating both the state public health order and common sense," NBC News reported.
Stelnicki, who unapologetically called the Republican Party of New Mexico a "death cult" for wanting businesses to stay open to protect the economy and let small businesses continue earning, went on to accuse the leaders of the New Mexico church of having "endangered the lives, livelihoods and health of not only their parishioners but their entire communities."