Democrat New Mexico Gov Fines Churches $10k Each for Holding Christmas Services
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's office smears Christian worshippers as 'pro-virus'
New Mexico's Democrat governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, has issued $10,000 fines to churches that held services on Christmas Eve, according to reports.
After issuing the $10k fines to each church, Gov. Grisham's office also released a statement that smeared Christian worshippers as "pro-virus."
The two churches were fined $10,000 apiece for violating the state's social distancing requirements after images and video of the services appeared online.
Cavalry Church and Legacy Church are described by local ABC affiliated KOAT-TV as "megachurches."
Both churches posted moving videos on social media showing hundreds of parishioners gathered singing carols during Christmas Eve services.
Those videos quickly went viral on social media and ultimately led to news stories from local media affiliates, apparently prompting the governor's actions.
On December 15th, Grisham instituted restrictions that limited capacity in worship services to 25% and required masks for all attendees, according to The Blaze.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many people were present in either service.
Still, the governor's office was apparently satisfied that both were overcapacity, as both were fined $5,000 for exceeding the capacity limits.
The churches were also fined an additional $5,000 apiece for failure to ensure that parishioners wore masks.
In a statement provided to KOAT, Legacy Church was defiant about Grisham's order: "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."
In their statement, they also referred to their service as a "peaceful protest," a likely reference to the Black Lives Matter protests that were allowed to proceed over the summer without any coronavirus enforcement actions.
Grisham's communications director, Trepp Stelnicki, did not mince words in response, implying that the pastors responsible for the service were "pro-virus," according to NBC News.
"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."
Restrictions on worship services — usually instituted by Democratic mayors and governors — have been struck down on numerous occasions in court.
The Supreme Court had even weighed in, calling such regulations in New Jersey, Colorado, New York, California, and other states unconstitutional even though the regulations had already been lifted by the time the cases reached the court.
As Justice Gorsuch noted in a concurring opinion to the decision striking 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."