The state Department of Social Services has asked the California attorney general's office to seek a court order closing a Santa Monica church day-care center because the church has refused to obtain a license.
Kathleen Norris, spokeswoman for the department, said that the court action was requested because leaders of the Santa Monica Foursquare Church have refused since 1983 to obtain a license to operate a child day-care center. The church has been asked at least five times to comply, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
"Our department has been empowered since 1978 to license child care centers to ensure the health and safety of the children in such facilities," Norris said. "Church officials are contesting the state's right to license their center."
The Rev. Ron Norris, pastor of the church, 1220 20th St., Santa Monica, and no relation to Kathleen Norris, said that the church will continue to fight the licensing on religious grounds.
Instruction Is Religious
"First of all," Norris said, "We do not operate a child care center. We operate a weekday Sunday school. We do not need a license to instruct children in church and religion. In the Book of Deuteronomy, it states that religious instruction is an integral part of the church, not the state."
The center is open on a drop-in basis from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and serves the children of the church's roughly 250 members. The children range from preschool to high school age.
The state's latest action came as local officials continued their investigation into what Al Albergate, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, called an allegation of corporal punishment at the school.
The Santa Monica Police Department says it is investigating an allegation that a 2 1/2-year-old girl may have been the victim of a single instance of corporal punishment. The allegation was made by a parent, police said.
Representatives of the district attorney's office, the state Department of Social Services and the Police Department went to the school Tuesday with a court-issued inspection warrant. They were looking for school records that would show that the church was operating a day care center, Albergate said. Authorities took the records with them, he said.
Albergate said that the investigation was necessary to obtain information in the event his office prosecutes the allegation of corporal punishment.
Norris said the church believes in corporal punishment but only in controlled circumstances and after considerable thought. He said corporal punishment consisted only of "a swat or a spank."
During Tuesday's search, Linda Norris, 38, the pastor's wife, was arrested on the misdemeanor charge of interfering with an officer in the performance of his duties, police said. She was released on $500 bail, posted by her husband.
Ron Norris called the incident Tuesday a "fishing expedition" and said that he believes the government actions resulted from the involvement of many church members, including his wife, in political activities.
Linda Norris is campaign manager for Rob Scribner, a Republican candidate who opposed Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) in the last 27th Congressional District election and is expected to do so again. Since 1983, five church members have run for seats on the Santa Monica school board and the City Council.
"I think about the involvement in politics and the state efforts to make us obtain a license all the time," Ron Norris said.
James E. Ryan, deputy state attorney general, said that a decision on seeking the court order will be made this week.
He said a church in Northern California also has refused to obtain a state license for its day-care center and the matter is pending in court.
The case "involves many of the same issues as the one in Santa Monica," Ryan said. "But there is no question that until we are told differently, the state has the power to regulate day-care centers, regardless of what they are called by churches. The state's interest is solely limited to the health and safety of the centers, not any delving into religion."