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Foursquare Leaders Act to Correct Building Violations at Church

March 09, 1986|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

Leaders of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel have moved to correct fire and building code violations at a Santa Monica church that has been charged with operating a day-care center without a state license.

Stephen R. Ferrand, general counsel for the Los Angeles-based denomination, said in an interview Thursday that most of the 39 violations at Santa Monica Foursquare Church will be corrected by March 17.

He said that violations requiring major work, such as installation of a fire sprinkler system in the church basement, will take longer to correct.

"We want to move as expeditiously as possible to bring the church into compliance with all city and state codes," said Ferrand, of the San Francisco law firm of Ferrand, Malti, Cooper and Metzler.

officials to work out a program of corrective action at the local church. The 1,400-church denomination owns the church property at 1220 20th St.

Jan. 14 Inspection

The violations were discovered by city workers Jan. 14 in a court-approved inspection of the church and a church-run Weekday Sunday School day-care center on adjoining property.

The inspection was conducted by representatives of various city departments, the district attorney's office and the state Department of Social Services.

The social services department, which requires child day-care centers to have a state license to operate, spearheaded the inspection because local pastors and center directors have refused to obtain one and have thwarted repeated state efforts to inspect the facility.

Local leaders maintained that state licensing violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. They closed the Weekday Sunday School shortly after being served Feb. 14 with a Superior Court order to close it.

Ferrand said that the leadership of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel does not agree with the position against licensing taken by the local pastors and center directors.

"The church position is that reasonable licensing laws are appropriate," Ferrand said. "We have not found state licensing to interfere with the free exercise of religion."

Ferrand said that the denomination operates "40 to 50" child day-care centers, all of them licensed. "When we found out that the Santa Monica church was operating a day-care center without a license, we asked them to close it."

Still Opposed

Harrison Sommer, an attorney representing the Santa Monica church and a member of the congregation, said Thursday that church members remain opposed to state licensing and will make an effort to persuade denomination leaders to oppose it as well.

"We believe that many churches have submitted to licensing without reading the state regulations that require licensing," Sommer said. "We want to educate them on the threat to freedom of religion."

Sommer is representing Santa Monica Foursquare co-pastors Ronald G. and Linda Norris and Weekday Sunday School directors Marilyn Lumsdon and Dawn Sherman, who are facing various misdemeanor counts of operating a child day-care center without a state license. A pretrial hearing on the charges will be held April 8 in Santa Monica Municipal Court.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lee Harris, who is prosecuting the case, said that the closing down of the day-care center will have no impact on his office's determination to proceed with a trial against the four persons.

Santa Monica City Atty. Robert M. Myers said that the city is pleased with the cooperation shown by denomination officials to bring the church into compliance with city fire, health, safety, zoning and planning laws.

"They were very cooperative in the meeting Tuesday and it appears that no formal action by the city will be required to get the violations corrected," Myers said.

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