Clergy oppose state rules on programs

January 30, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Christian pastors from throughout Maryland don't want the state to regulate their child care programs because they fear that their philosophies, including the practice of disciplining children by spanking, will be trampled upon.

The ministers said last week that their preschool programs would be no different from public school programs if the state tinkers with them.

"It will destroy our effectiveness. It will destroy our program," said Pastor Shelton L. Smith of the Church of the Open Door in Westminster and leader of a statewide group fighting new Department of Human Resources regulations.

Church child care facilities had been exempt from certain state regulations until this year, and ministers are supporting a Senate bill to restore that exemption.

"We just can't abide" the regulations, said Mr. Smith, president of Churches Against State Licensing Entanglements, which counts about 100 churches and schools as members. State regulators "do things by inches. This is a first step in a longer journey. The issue is they want to control us."

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, a District 5 ++ Republican and a member of Mr. Smith's church; and 10 co-sponsors, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel Republican.

Mr. Miller said last week that he is co-sponsoring the measure because a friend of his, a Prince George's County minister, asked him to support it. The pastor is the Rev. R. Herbert Fitzpatrick of Riverdale Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, whose school has about 1,000 students.

The clergymen said they have no qualms about complying with fire, health and safety regulations, but they said the state should not dictate how they run their programs.

The state does not want to interfere in religious child care activities and has worked with pastors when developing the new regulations, said Percilla J. Lynch, assistant director for licensing in the DHR Child Care Administration.

"We felt we are not interfering with their philosophy and the most important part of their program. We've tried to keep it to basic health and safety requirements," she said.

But, the state cannot allow spanking.

"That would be in violation of the state regulations," Ms. Lynch said.

Some corporal punishment is considered abusive, she said.

Corporal punishment is not legal in Maryland public schools, said Ronald A. Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Board of Education. It had been allowed in 12 counties until the General Assembly revised the law last year.

The Rev. Richard L. Grammer, pastor of Granite Baptist Church in Glen Burnie and president of the Maryland Association of Christian Schools, said he follows biblical teachings about corporal punishment.

"We train our children with a loving discipline that includes corporal punishment," he said.

Mr. Smith said, "Spanking is a biblical concept that people in this country have practiced for years and years. Reasonable spanking is not child abuse. It gives you leverage, and it helps you correct a child."

Ms. Lynch said teachers and administrators should use "positive discipline strategies."

If a child is disobeying or not following instructions, the teacher could make the child sit quietly alone for a few minutes, Ms. Lynch said. If the child is fighting, the teacher could hold him on her lap with her arms around him until he calms down.

Ms. Lynch said church leaders have lost their fight against the regulations.

In the late 1980s, the General Assembly changed state law to say that all child care facilities in Maryland must be regulated. Until that time, programs operated by religious groups, county recreation and parks programs, and nursery schools were exempt, she said.

"The law made it possible to guarantee the health and safety of all children who were in child care," she said.

ASSEMBLY SCHEDULE

To receive by fax a free schedule of legislative hearings in the Maryland General Assembly for the week of Jan. 30, dial Sunfax at (410) 332-6123. After you hear the greeting, punch in the information number 5959.

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