Pastors back exempting church-run child care centers from spanking ban

March 02, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Church-run child care centers around the state might close if the General Assembly passes legislation to prohibit spanking, pastors told a House committee yesterday.

"I'm not saying this as a threat; I'm saying it as a practical matter," said the Rev. William H. Freed Jr. of Broadfording Bible Brethren Church in Hagerstown.

Christian pastors will not stand for any more interference from the state in their school programs, he and others told members of the Environmental Matters Committee.

"What we're hearing now is the voice of the wolf at the door, trying to blow the house down," said the Rev. Richard L. Grammer of Granite Baptist Church in Glen Burnie.

A hearing on House Bill 1142, which would exempt church child care facilities from certain state regulations, drew about 120 people. Almost 50 were from Westminster, said the Rev. Shelton L. Smith of the Church of the Open Door.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Republican representing Carroll and Howard counties, is a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the Environmental Matters Committee. Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat and the committee chairman, is the bill's main sponsor.

The committee will vote on the measure later.

A hearing on identical legislation introduced in the Senate is scheduled for tomorrow in the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll Republican, is the main sponsor of Senate Bill 286. Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, is a co-sponsor.

Church child care facilities were exempt from certain state regulations until the regulations were rewritten in recent years. The changes took effect this year.

Corporal punishment is illegal in Maryland public schools.

The pastors said they have no qualms about complying with state fire, health and safety regulations, but they said they don't want the state tinkering with their instructional programs.

"The development of the regulations has been a long and complicated process," Mr. Guns said. "The regulations finally put forth, however, I feel, go beyond health and safety requirements and intrude upon the teachings of these churches."

The state Department of Human Resources, which regulates tTC child care centers, does not want to interfere with religious programs, but wants to ensure that children are safe, state officials said.

Corporal punishment is not a good way to discipline children, said Patricia Jennings, deputy director of the Child Care Administration in the Department of Human Resources.

"The reason for our strong opposition [to the exemption] is rooted in the results of the long years of research and experience on the topic," she said. "Simply stated, this material shows that children subjected to corporal punishment have the potential to use violence to settle their own disputes."

Ellen Mugmon, chairwoman of the legislative committee of the Governor's Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, testified that "firm discipline does not mean beating children with objects."

The state attorney general's office wrote last year that it is not unconstitutional for the state to ban corporal punishment in religious schools. The state has an interest in protecting children from physical and emotional harm, wrote Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe.

Del. Marsha G. Perry, an Anne Arundel Democrat who is a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, said she was concerned that the new regulations went further than legislators had intended.

The regulations prohibit any actions that injure children or result in physical pain. The acts can include spanking, hitting or using discipline methods that create discomfort, such as washing a child's mouth out with soap or requiring him to stand on one foot for a certain period.

Ms. Perry questioned whether standing on one foot should be considered corporal punishment.

"It's very hard for me to support you on this as long as that kind of stuff is in there," she told Ms. Mugmon.

Ms. Perry said she reared three children and nine foster children without spanking them.

"I'm against corporal punishment, but I sure used a lot of verbal threats," she said, drawing laughter from committee members.

Del. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore Democrat, told Mr. Guns, "The heart of the bill seems to be whether church schools can beat their little kids."

Del. Stephen J. Braun, a Charles County Democrat, said workers in religious child care centers could be prosecuted like anyone else if they abused children.

Gary L. Cox, executive director of the Maryland Federation of Church Schools in Columbia, said teachers and church employees do not spank children, instead calling in parents to administer the punishment.

Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, a Democratic member of the Environmental Matters Committee, said he would not vote for the bill.

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