HONOLULU, Hawaii — A church in Hawaii has reached a settlement in an atheist lawsuit that asserted that five area churches had bamboozled area public schools out of millions in rental fees.
As previously reported, the suit, Kahle v. New Hope International Ministries, was filed by atheists Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber in March of last year.
Kahle, the founder of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, and public advocate Huber, alleged that five churches in Hawaii that rent school facilities for worship have committed fraud by using false records or statements to “reduce or forgo payment of rental fees or utility charges.”
The complaint filed in the First Circuit Court of Hawaii asserted that the churches collectively owe the government $5.6 million in that they filed false applications to obtain discounted rates and have used the facilities for longer than their contracts allow. Kahle and Huber lodged the complaint under the state’s False Claims Act.
“They’re there so long and they’re so cozy; they just take a whole bunch of extra time,” Kahle told reporters in August. “They come in on Saturday even though they’re only supposed to be there on Sunday.”
But in October, the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a motion of dismiss the suit, stating that Kahle and Huber had failed to establish that the churches had presented any false claims. Following a hearing over the matter, Judge Virginia Crandall agreed with ADF that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the churches have violated the law. However, she also permitted Kahle and Huber to refile the lawsuit with more specific details in regard to the accusations.
In the meantime, one of the churches, New Hope Church, agreed to pay $775,000 to settle the suit. According to reports, $200,000 will go to Kahle and the rest to the state school system.
New Hope Church, however, is not admitting any wrongdoing. It says that it decided to settle to avoid ongoing legal entanglements. The four other churches in the suit have not sought to pursue a settlement.
Two of the four, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu, are being represented by the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Attorneys for the Arizona-based group state that if Kahle and Huber refile against the remaining churches, they will fight it.
“Hawaii’s False Claims Act was never intended to bully churches into settlements when they did nothing wrong,” wrote ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley in a press release about the settlement.
“Despite the settlement by some of the churches, this lawsuit never should have been brought in the first place,” he continued. “The court rightfully dismissed One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu from this suit. They have committed no fraud, and any allegations that they did will be met with a strong defense.”