A Hawaii judge dismissed an atheist's lawsuit Thursday against churches, claiming they defrauded the government and paid less than the standard rent for the school buildings in which they worship. A Christian attorney said the case was dismissed because the atheists had no evidence.
"There's no question that this was an ideological battle based on their opposition to churches being in public schools altogether," Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel and leader of the Church Project with Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told The Christian Post on Friday.
The judge dismissed the case, known as Kahle v. New Hope International Ministries, because there was no evidence of fraud, Stanley explained. Atheists Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber filed their suit against five Hawaii churches, including two which ADF represented, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu.
"They claim to have evidence, but in order to allege fraud you have to specify what it is that happened," the lawyer pointed out. The judge found the atheists' complaint no more than "a mishmash of very vague allegations that did not rise to the level of specificity for a fraud complaint."
"The atheists are claiming that they can refile the complaint and allege fraud, but I've seen the evidence and they can't," Stanley declared. He insists that the churches did not commit fraud, but applied to use the school property, were given a rate, paid the rate, and used the facilities properly.
According to Stanley, although the atheists had no evidence, they filed the lawsuit in a desperate ploy to kick churches out of public schools.
"They admitted that they brought this case because they had read about the churches in New York that were being kicked out of public schools," he said.
Stanley was referring to the case Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, in which the Bronx Household of Faith protested against The Big Apple's policy of "singling out worship services for exclusion from empty school buildings during non-school hours." Stanley said this policy of keeping churches from worshipping on the property of temporarily closed public schools gave hope to Kahle and Huber. They intended to bring this strict separation of church and school property to Hawaii.
"I think that, if they are successful in this effort in Hawaii, it could open up the door to potential litigation against churches in other states," Stanley explained. Therefore, he declared it "imperative that we make a firm statement here that these lawsuits are not going to be successful."
But this Hawaii ruling isn't the only positive sign against this trend. Even in the Bronx case, churches seem to be gaining ground. In May, the New York City Council passed a resolution in favor of requesting the state legislature overturn the church exclusion policy.
"Churches that have been helping communities for years should be allowed to continue to offer the hope that empty buildings cannot," Jordan Lawrence, ADF senior counsel, declared in a public statement. "Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to defend the freedom of churches and other religious groups to meet in public schools until they are as free as other groups to serve their communities."