An atheist couple in Hawaii filed a lawsuit against two churches, accusing them of swindling the state government out of thousands of dollars by paying much less than the standard rent while acquiring assembly space inside public schools.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal firm representing the two churches, Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber, who are husband and wife, put to use Hawaii’s False Claims Act to file their lawsuit against Calvary Chapel Oahu and One Love Ministries in 2013.
Kahle, who has founded Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, has pursued many such causes in the past, but at the center of this case, which bases itself on the First Amendment, is the couple’s claim that One Love Ministries denied Kaimuki High School $930,000 and Calvary Chapel Oahu denied Mililani High School $171,000.
Reportedly, premises of both schools were used by the respective churches for longer periods than their applications initially sought. That is how Kahle believes the two houses of worship short-changed the government and so now, he is seeking a compensation for the state.
“They’re there so long and they’re so cozy they just take a whole bunch of extra time, they come in on Saturday even though they’re only supposed to be there on Sunday,” he said.
Apparently, the lawsuit was dismissed in January this year after which Kahle and Huber reworked the document before resubmitting it. In October, the decision was reversed and the state started examining a federal statute that in fact substantiated the atheists’ claims. Both houses of worship denied swindling any money, said they had cleared all payments and filed an appeal to ensure the case does not move forward.
James Hochberg, a lawyer involved in the matter, said the lawsuit is a result of the couple’s hostility towards churches.
“The only thing these churches have done is serve the schools and bring great benefit to their surrounding communities. They don’t deserve to be dragged through court any longer by two people who are seeking financial gain by attacking these congregations,” attorney Erik Stanley said in a statement. “The trial court’s initial instinct to gut this lawsuit of its substance was correct. We will now ask the appeals court to definitively dismiss this baseless complaint.”
Stanley also explained that Kahle and Huber have used a radical theory that could lead to many more churches being pulled out of public schools.
The lawsuit initially involved five churches, all of which were associated with New Hope Network. However, three of those churches agreed to settle for $775,000 to avoid being caught up in a long drawn out legal battle. While $200,000 of that compensation went to Kahle, the remaining was given to the state education system. As of now, the remaining two churches, namely Calvary Chapel Oahu and One Love Ministries, continue to fight their battles.
Photo Credits: Freedom From Religion Foundation