A New Mexico megachurch has been fined $2,500 after staff members did not wear masks during a Christmas Eve service last December.
The New Mexico Department of Health Office of General Counsel had initially fined Calvary Church, a non-denominational church in Albuquerque, $10,000 for allegedly violating mask mandates and capacity restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, however, the fine was reduced to $2,500.
In a statement on June 10, Secretary of Health Tracie C. Collins ordered an additional "civil monetary penalty of $2,500" on Calvary Church "on the basis that church staff members did not wear masks during the Christmas Eve service in violation of the Public Health Order."
Pastor Skip Heitzig, who leads the megachurch with over 16,000 weekly attendees, reportedly confessed to being confused by the state health department's updated ruling.
"[I]n a video interview, the governor told me that no one had to wear masks from the stage. ... We [the church and staff members] did everything the state asked us to do," Heitzig told The Christian Post in an interview this week.
The church's executive team also released a statement regarding the ruling change, noting that they had followed all instructions provided directly to them by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
"On the one hand, the governor said that pastors could preach from the stage with no masks. On the other hand, the State Health Department has fined us now for doing just that," a statement from the church's executive team reads. "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."
Heitzig also noted how the governor's spokesperson had labeled him and other pastors as "pro-virus pastors" for holding Christmas services last year.
"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," he said. "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.'"
When the alleged claim was made, Heitzig said he "immediately picked up the phone to get in contact and directly discuss this with the governor. But she didn't answer. ... She never even tried to call me back."
In the statement by the Calvary Church executive team, they contended that elected officials should spend less time "name-calling" and more time considering ways to "work together with all New Mexicans.
Americans "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," the church concluded.
Photo courtesy: Noah/Unsplash
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.