A megachurch has been fined thousands of dollars because staff members did not wear face masks during one of its services.
Albuquerque-based Calvary Church, which is led by Pastor Skip Heitzig and has a weekly congregation of more than 16,000 was initially issued with a fine of $10,000 for the breach of Covid rules at a Christmas Eve church service in December 2020.
However, the New Mexico Department of Health Office of General Counsel recently reduced the fine to $2,500
Secretary of Health, Tracie C. Collins ruled it be "further ordered that a civil monetary penalty of $2,500 is imposed upon the Appellant 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."
Calvary Church has since released a statement responding to the state health department's latest ruling: "[I]n a video interview, the governor [Michelle Lujan Grisham] told me that no one had to wear masks from the stage. ... We [the church congregation and staff] did everything the state asked us to do."
The church stated, "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.
"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."
The citation handed to the church on 28 December 2020 stated that staff and congregation members violated a Public Health Order issued on 15 December that restricted in-person worship services to 25 percent capacity in Bernalillo County and mandated mask-wearing.