Legacy Church and Calvary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico were both sent notices of "contemplated action" by the state's health department on Monday. The notices informed the churches that they would be fined up to $10,000 along with potential "other remedies" for holding large gatherings that violated regulations intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
This comes after videos and photos of the Christmas Eve services surfaced online via the churches' Instagram accounts, sparking outrage from community members and government officials and prompting health officials to launch an investigation. A spokesperson for Gov. Grisham, Tripp Stelnicki, chastised the churches for their "selfish" and illegal gatherings that "defy common sense."
"They endangered the lives, livelihoods and health of not only their parishioners but their entire communities -- and given how quickly this virus can spread, potentially our state as a whole," Stelnicki said, per the Albuquerque Journal.
The Legacy Church officials responded to these potentially pending fines by claiming that it only follows laws ordained by divine order.
"We have taken the pandemic seriously from the start and have prudent measures in place," the church said in a statement. "But when governments exceed their constitutional authority and contradict what we are called on by God to do, we answer first to His authority."
Calvary Church released a statement explaining that it had a larger than expected turnout on Christmas Eve and "chose not to break fellowship with any worshiper by requiring them to leave the gathering of their church family."
"Instead, we continued to urge and provide opportunity for our congregants to maintain safe social distance, wear face coverings and properly sanitize," the church said, per ABC affiliate station KOAT.