The latest statistics on COVID-19 in New Mexico as of Sunday, December 28 reflects that in New Mexico there are 747 new cases of Covid 19 for a total to 137,968, 30 new deaths bringing the total to 2,346 with 758 hospitalizations.
With respect to the United States, the month of December has been a devastating month for coronavirus spread with more than 63,000 Americans having died so far this month, the highest on record in one month, bringing the total to more than 333,000 people lost to the virus in the U.S. according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that 193,000 could lose their lives over the next two months to the virus.
A link to the source report is here:
CHRISTMAS EVE SUPER SPREADER SERVICES
State officials warned the public to stay home and not gather during Christmas holiday. Under the public health orders, and because Bernalillo County is still in the red zone, places of worship are only allowed to hold services at 25% of their maximum capacity.
Notwithstanding the public health orders, it was reported by KRQE News 13 that 2 of Albuquerque’s largest Christian churches held services celebrating the Christmas holiday with few face masks and with little or no social distancing. Legacy and Calvary churches held Christmas Eve services essentially ignoring the public health orders.
Photos taken at the Calvary Church service show the church assembly area packed with not much social distancing. While some people were wearing masks, it didn’t include everyone.
Legacy Church posted a video of their Christmas service revealing a very crowded congregation room with hundreds of people packed into the congregation area and again with limited social distancing and few masks. News 13 downloaded the video of the service from the church’s website before they took it down Sunday.
LEGACY CHURCH LITIGATION
The Legacy Church services was particularly egregious because in April, a federal judge shot down Legacy’s request to boost indoor capacity from 25% to 50%. Legacy Church filed a lawsuit against then-New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel and the state of New Mexico. Legacy Church argued that the public health orders violated the church’s religious freedoms.
U.S. District Judge James O. Browning in July handed down his ruling in that lawsuit, saying the state has the right to ban large gatherings in houses of worship during a public health crisis, and that the public health orders neither violated the church’s free exercise rights nor its assembly clause rights. Judge Browning ruled that the public health orders “are unrelated to the suppression of speech or religion, serve a compelling state interest, and significantly less restrictive alternatives are not available.”
In response to the current controversy, Legacy Church provided KRQE News 13 with this statement about their Christmas Day service:
“We have taken the pandemic seriously from the start, and have prudent measures in place. But when governments exceed their constitutional authority and contradict what we are called on by God to do, we answer first to His authority.”
The link to the KRQE News 13 news story is here:
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM REACTS
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the parishioners and leaders of Legacy and Calvary violated both the state’s public health order “and common sense.” and said:
“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. … These church leaders should reflect on the danger they’ve unleashed in their communities. … [All New Mexicans wish that the pandemic was over but] no pastor may deem it so.”
The New Mexico Department of Health announced it will serve both Calvary Church and Legacy Church a “notice of contemplated action” after they appeared to hold a Christmas Eve service that violated the current public health order. The violation carries a fine of up to $5,000 for violating the public health order.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no doubt that the pastors of both Legacy Church and Calvary sincerely believe that they were spreading the word of Jesus Christ, but the services they presided over were more likely than not spreading the Corona Virus as well.
Since 1905, the United States Supreme Court has said repeatedly in rulings that it is constitutional in a public health crisis for the government to require people to do certain things or to prohibit certain things that they normally would not do or could do and even refuse to do. In 1905, during the small pox epidemic, the United State Supreme Court case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws and health care orders. Jacobson was a Christian Minister who refused to be vaccinated as required by the government and refused to pay a fine imposed. The United States Supreme Court has heard several challenges to these mandates and public health orders and has consistently ruled the mandates are indeed constitutional based on protecting the public health, safety and welfare.
Our freedoms of speech and freedom of religion are two of our most precious rights protected by our United State Constitution. With that said, those freedoms do have limitations and carry with them the responsibility to use them in a responsible manner that does not violate the law. For example, Freedom of Speech does not allow someone to yell fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire, nor does it allow you to threaten to kill someone. Freedom of Religion too has limitations. For example, you cannot make a human sacrifice in praise of your god, even if your human sacrifice agrees to it and wants to be killed and become a martyr. The point is that Freedom of Religion does not mean freedom to violate the law.
Under no circumstances has government exceeded its constitutional authority when it comes to the public health orders, nor is it “contradicting” any church from doing what they are called upon by God to do. What Legacy Church and Calvary Church have done is believing falsely they are above the law and in turn placed their own congregations in harm’s way by conducting “super spreader event’s” on Christmas eve. No matter how faithful the congregations are, the corona virus is just as deadly to the faithful as it is to the atheist.
One thing is for certain, both churches could have held more services on Christmas Day respecting the 25% occupancy requirement and even have conducted “virtual services” or “parking lot” services while the congregations remained in their cars.
The pastors of both Legacy Church and Calvary Church need to ponder the teachings of Jesus Christ when he said:
“Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
It’s not just about saving the soul by the churches, but the governments responsibility to protect the health and safety of people and saving lives.