Lawsuit against Hawaii Churches Hurts the Surrounding Community
by Sarah Kramer, Alliance Defending Freedom, May 19, 2017
A 2016 study estimated that religious organizations offer over $300 billion in economic benefit to our country each year. Yes, that is billions with a “b”. And that’s the most conservative estimate. Taking into account the value in goods and services that religious organizations provide, the estimate increases to over one trillion dollars.
So, you would think that communities nationwide would recognize religious organizations as a valuable part of our society. But a case out of Hawaii says differently.
One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu are two churches in Honolulu, Hawaii that used to meet in local schools after hours. The churches would pay rent based on an agreement that they made with the school. And the churches, on their own initiative, provided numerous benefits to the schools outside of the rent payments, such as new air-conditioning, sound systems, and paint.
Two atheists, Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber, however, found out about this arrangement and sued the churches under Hawaii’s False Claims Act. They claim that the churches had been defrauding the government by paying substandard rent to the schools, even though the schools agree that the churches paid all the required rent.
A court originally dismissed this lawsuit but gave the Kahle and Huber time to revise their complaint. The court allowed their amended lawsuit to proceed and ADF appealed that decision to the Hawaii Intermediate Appeals Court. Today, ADF asked the appeals court to dismiss this case completely.
Kahle and Huber have a habit of attacking religious liberty wherever they go. (They have since moved to Michigan, where they have continued their campaign against religion.) Besides their obvious religious hostility, it appears that this suit is financially motivated, as Kahle and Huber stand to benefit personally.
The community gains nothing if the case is allowed to move forward. These churches were meeting the needs of local schools in exchange for meeting space. They provided a unique benefit to the public, as many churches do.
Unfortunately, this is not the only attack that churches have faced recently. And not only is religious liberty at stake in these cases, but also the positive impact churches make on their surrounding communities. For example:
- We await a decision in the Supreme Court case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. The Supreme Court will weigh in on whether the government can discriminate against certain individuals or organizations simply because they are religious. (The State of Missouri excluded Trinity Lutheran from participating in a playground resurfacing grant open to all non-profits simply because it is a church.)
But Trinity Lutheran opens up its playground to children in the surrounding community. Do the children on Trinity Lutheran’s playground deserve to be less safe than those on a secular playground?
- In Iowa and Massachusetts, government officials have tried to apply sexual orientation, gender identity ordinances to local churches, claiming that they are not permitted to preach on biblical sexuality and that they must open their bathrooms to members of the opposite sex.
These churches provide multiple services to the community such as meals for the needy. But government officials said they would be forced to open up their bathrooms to members of the opposite sex if they open up their facilities to the public. That would force the church to choose between these community service events and protecting the privacy of those using their facilities.
The churches serving the neediest in our communities deserve better.
And in One Love Ministries’ and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu’s case, the only thing these churches have done is serve the schools and bring great benefit to their surrounding communities. We should all agree that is worth defending.
HJ: Oral Arguments Schedule
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ADF: Hawaii court should dismiss frivolous lawsuit against Oahu churches
News Release from ADF, May 18, 2017
HONOLULU – Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus and Senior Counsel Erik Stanley will be available for media interviews Friday following oral arguments at the Intermediate Court of Appeals of the State of Hawaii in a case concerning their motion to dismiss a lawsuit against two Oahu churches. Two atheists falsely accused the two churches of defrauding the government—merely for being included among all the community groups that are allowed to use empty school buildings after hours.
ADF attorneys and James Hochberg, an ADF-allied attorney in Honolulu, represent two Oahu churches, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu, against a baseless lawsuit claiming that the churches defrauded the state by violating Hawaii’s False Claims Act.
“Churches who serve the neediest in their communities should be welcomed, not driven out by false accusations,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus, who will argue on their behalf before the court. “The claims in this baseless lawsuit are entirely false and are driven by an atheistic agenda that is hostile to churches. The facts and evidence show that these churches were at all times truthful and that they have made all required payments to the schools. No one benefits from this suit except the two atheists bringing it, who stand to gain financially if they are successful.”
In 2013, the atheists, Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber, filed their original lawsuit, Kahle v. New Hope International Ministries, with Hawaii’s Circuit Court of the First Circuit under the state’s False Claims Act. The law allows “whistleblowers” with inside information to expose fraudulent billing by government contractors; however, the lawsuit fails to cite a single instance in which the churches submitted a false statement to defraud the government. Additionally, the churches have made substantial contributions to the schools through donated improvements and volunteer time exceeding what was required under law. For example, during the several years that One Love Ministries rented Kaimuki High School, the church community provided mentoring of Kaimuiki students; performed landscaping and maintenance of the school campus; replaced the floor of the auditorium stage; invested in remodeling all of the campus bathrooms; and removed graffiti from the school on a weekly basis, among other enhancements.
“These churches have not only made all of the required rent payments, they’ve sacrificially given much more in service and funding to the schools and communities they love,” added ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “We are hopeful that the appeals court will dismiss this lawsuit that never should have been brought in the first place.”
ADF’s motion to dismiss on behalf of the two churches explained that Kahle and Huber “have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because they have not alleged and cannot allege that there were any false claims by One Love or Calvary Chapel. Because the existence of a false claim is a necessary element of a [bona fide] complaint, and because [Kahle’s and Huber’s] allegations, even if taken as true, demonstrate that no false claim exists (or can exist), their Complaint must be dismissed.” The trial court originally ruled to dismiss the lawsuit, but due to conflicting federal law covering the same issue, the court allowed the atheists to amend their original complaint. In 2014, the two churches filed an appeal of the trial court’s decision to allow the atheists’ baseless lawsuit to proceed.
“Since then, while the churches are still serving the ‘ohana of Hawaii, Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber years ago moved away to Michigan,” added co-counsel James Hochberg of Honolulu—among the nearly 3,200 allied attorneys with ADF.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
Related Case: Kahle v. One Love Ministries