A husband-and-wife pastoral team in California may have to pay more than $30,000 in fines for violating a state law requiring day-care centers to be licensed.

Ron and Linda Norris, pastors of Lighthouse Foursquare Church in Santa Monica, are scheduled for trial in April. Ron Norris could face eight years in prison, and his wife could face a nine-year sentence. At the request of their denomination, they recently moved their “Weekday Sunday School” program off church grounds and into the homes of several church members.

The Weekday Sunday School provides care and instruction for children aged five and under. The state contends that the facility is operated as a day-care center and thus required to be licensed.

“We’re not a baby-sitting organization,” says Ron Norris in response. He said the school offers “elements of teaching and training.” Church officials contend the school is a ministry of the church and so is protected from government interference by the First Amendment.

Gale Wright, of the California Department of Social Services (DSS), said the Weekday Sunday School models the traits of day-care centers. Parents must pay for services, and the facility is open on a drop-in basis from 6:30 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. She said the school operates “exactly like any other day-care center throughout the state that we are required to license.”

Wright added that an attorney for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel said in a letter the denomination’s policy is to comply with “licensing regulations wherever they apply.”

Authorities moved against the Norrises’ church in January at the request of the DSS’s Community Care Licensing Division. Several DSS officers and armed police officers entered church buildings to confiscate records. ...

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