Child Care Facilities

Church Law and Tax 1989-03-01 Recent Developments Child Care Facilities Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M.,

Church Law and Tax 1989-03-01 Recent Developments

Child Care Facilities

A federal court in California ruled that a California law requiring church child care facilities to be licensed by the state did not violate the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. The law was challenged by a Baptist church on the ground that obtaining a license to operate its child care facility represented “a clear violation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our church.” In determining whether the law violated the guaranty of religious freedom, the court applied a three-pronged test: (1) whether the law in fact imposed a substantial burden on the church’s exercise of its religious beliefs; (2) whether the law was supported by a compelling state interest that justified the burden on religious freedom; and (3) whether an exemption from the statute would interfere with the state’s interest. The court concluded that the law in question did impose a substantial burden on the church’s religious convictions regarding the Lordship of Christ over the activities and ministries of the church (even though the church had sought and obtained a license for several years prior to challenging the law). However, the court concluded that the law was supported by a compelling state interest: “[T]he licensure requirement of the [law] is designed to protect the health and safety of children receiving care outside their home. Without hesitation, the court finds this to be a compelling state interest of the highest order.” Hazards that the licensing requirement was designed to protect against included “over-capacity, lack of supervision, accessibility to chemicals, structural hazards, and sexual or physical abuse”. To obtain a license, a child care facility had to comply with various requirements in the areas of physical structure, nutrition, immunizations, child/staff ratios, record keeping, and financial disclosure. In addition, caretakers were required to provide fingerprints that were used by the state in conducting a criminal background check (the state could prohibit persons who had been convicted of certain crimes from working in child care facilities). Finally, the court concluded that recognizing an exemption for church child care facilities would interfere with the state’s compelling interest in providing for the health and safety of children. The court referred to court rulings in several other states rejecting the claim that application of child care licensing laws to churches violated the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. North Valley Baptist Church v. McMahon, 696 F. Supp. 518 (E.D. Cal. 1988).

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