A Hawaiian court has heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by two atheist activists accusing two churches of not properly compensating local public schools for using their facilities.
Last Friday, Calvary Chapel Central Oahu and One Love Ministries went before a state trial court to argue that they lawfully compensated the schools they met in on weekends.
The two churches were represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that has argued religious liberty cases before the United States Supreme Court.
ADF Senior Counsel Ken Connelly, who argued the case on behalf of the two churches, said in a statement released the day before oral arguments that the complaint simply involved atheists who had “an axe to grind against religion.”
“Furthermore, the facts and evidence show that these churches were at all times truthful and that they not only paid what the schools required of them, they went much further—donating property improvements and volunteering their time,” stated Connelly.
“No one benefits from this suit except the two atheists bringing it, who stand to gain financially if they are successful.”
In 2013, atheist activists Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber filed suit against five Hawaiian congregations in the Hawaii’s Circuit Court of the First Circuit under the False Claims Act.
The five congregations were Calvary Chapel Central Oahu, New Hope International Ministries, New Hope Hawai’I Kai, New Hope Christian Fellowship Kapolei, and One Love Ministries.
Kahle and Huber accused the five churches of failing to pay $5.6 million in unpaid rent and charges to the Department of Education when filing applications to use public school facilities.
Specific claims included New Hope Oahu owing Farrington High School $3.2 million, New Hope Hawaii Kai owing Kaiser High School $1.1 million, and One Love Ministries owing $930,000 to Kaimuki High School.
“By not paying for what they use they are directly taking money from our states children,” stated Jim Bickerton, attorney for Kahle and Huber, as reported by HawaiiNewsNow in August 2013.
“The buildings are falling down and the state is still paying to run them and not getting reimbursed. It's tragic. That $3.2 million might have put a new roof on Farrington years ago.”
In December 2013, Judge Virginia Crandall granted a motion to remove One Love Ministries and Calvary Central Chapel Oahu from the lawsuit, with the plaintiffs filing an amended lawsuit.
In March 2014, New Hope Church agreed to pay $775,000 as part of a settlement, with most of the money going to the state Department of Education and as much as $200,000 going to Kahle and Huber.