Pastors in Child Day-Care Case Avert Ouster by Church

Times Staff Writer

Two Santa Monica pastors awaiting trial on charges of operating a child day-care center without a state license have turned aside an attempt to terminate their pastorate of the Santa Monica Foursquare Church.

The board of directors of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel had ordered the husband-and-wife team of the Revs. Ronald G. and Linda Norris to conclude their ministry March 10 and to vacate the parsonage by April 1.

Ronald Norris said that the order was withdrawn after he threatened to sue the denomination, which holds title to the church property at 1224 20th St., for “wrongful termination.”

Dr. Charles Duarte, executive secretary/treasurer of the denomination, acknowledged that the order was suspended but refused to discuss why the board had unanimously sought the ouster of the two pastors.

The order was issued in a Feb. 25 letter to the co-pastors, citing “ecclesiastical reasons” and the “best interest” of both the local church and the denomination, founded by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

Duarte refused to define the reasons or to say whether the board is contemplating further action against the Norrises.

Ronald Norris released the letter to The Times on Monday after stating in an interview that his relationship with Foursquare officials was “strained.”

He also released a copy of his March 3 reply to the board, which was sent to Rolf K. McPherson, son of Aimee Semple McPherson and president of the board of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Norris also said that he and Foursquare officials had had two long meetings in an attempt to resolve their differences.

The differences are rooted in the Norrises’ refusal to obtain a state license to operate the Weekday Sunday School child day-care center in a building adjoining the church. Foursquare officials favor such licensing.

The Norrises contended that obtaining a state license would violate their freedom of religion as written in the Bible and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

They were arrested, along with two day-care center employees, on Feb. 21, on charges of operating of a day-care center without a license. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Santa Monica Municipal Court.

The Norrises closed the day-care center after their arrests.

For the trial, the Norrises have hired attorney Howard Weitzman, noted for his successful defense of auto magnate John DeLorean against cocaine charges. Attorney Harrison W. Sommer, a member of the Santa Monica church, will defend Marilyn Lumsdon and Dawn Sherman Forman, former directors of the day-care center.

Norris said that he took out a bank loan to pay Weitzman. “It is costing us many times $10,000,” Norris said. “But he believes he can win the case and so do we.”