Four Santa Monica Foursquare Church leaders, accused of operating a day care center without a state license, will appeal a judge's ruling barring religious freedom issues from their trial, their attorney said Wednesday.
Attorney Harrison W. Sommer said that the ruling by Santa Monica Municipal Judge Rex H. Minter, if allowed to stand, would give the state unconstitutional powers to regulate specific church activities, contrary to the legal doctrine of separation of church and state.
"We would be deprived of our rights to show that what was taking place at the church was religious in nature, not secular, and therefore not subject to state regulations," Sommer said.
Trial Scheduled for July
Sommer, a church member, is co-counsel with Howard L. Weitzman in representing the Rev. Ronald G. Norris, his wife, the Rev. Linda L. Norris, Marilyn Lumsdon and Dawn Sherman Forman.
They are scheduled to go on trial on July 1 before Minter on 42 misdemeanor counts of operating an unlicensed day care center in 1986 in a building next to the church at 1220 20th St. California law requires any person or group to obtain a permit to operate a day care center.
Linda L. Norris also faces counts of interfering with a court-issued inspection warrant and resisting arrest during an inspection of the day care center conducted by state, county and city agencies on Jan. 14, 1986.
The four were arrested on Feb. 21, 1986, after repeated unsuccessful attempts by the state Department of Social Services to persuade church officials to obtain a state license and to allow state inspection of the day care facilities.
No State Interference
Church officials maintained that the center, which was closed after the arrests, was actually a weekday church school and outside of the state's regulatory jurisdiction. They contend that to allow state interference in one church activity could lead to state interference in all church functions.
Minter granted a request on Feb. 23 by Deputy Dist. Atty. Roderick W. Leonard that the trial deal solely with the charges of operating an unlicensed day care center and not include arguments about the state's right to regulate a church-operated day care center.
"Whether the state has the right to regulate a secular activity in the church, in this case changing diapers, feeding and housing babies, is an entirely different issue," Leonard said in an interview.
Leonard added that courts have upheld the rights of states to impose standards of health and welfare in connection with church-operated day care centers.