HONOLULU — A judge has thrown out a lawsuit that accused several churches in Hawaii of defrauding the government.
The suit, Kahle v. New Hope International Ministries, was filed by atheists Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber in March of this 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.
On Thursday, ADF appeared at a hearing to argue on behalf of two of the churches, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu, which the organization states have paid all agreed-upon rents. Other legal groups represented the remaining churches.
“Churches who serve the neediest in their communities should be welcomed, not driven out by false accusations,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley stated in a press release this week. “This lawsuit’s claims are false and driven by an agenda that is hostile to churches. The undeniable fact is that these churches were at all times truthful and have paid all required rent to the schools.”
Co-counsel James Hochberg of Honolulu agreed.
“These churches have not only faithfully paid all of their rent, they’ve sacrificially given much more in service and funding to the schools and communities they love,” he said.
Following the hearing, 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.
Attorney James Bickerton, who represented the atheists, told reporters that he will refile. But ADF said that it will file also, and will again ask the court to dismiss the charges.
“The atheists are claiming that they can refile the complaint and allege fraud, but I’ve seen the evidence and they can’t,” Stanley told reporters on Friday. “There’s no question that this was an ideological battle based on their opposition to churches being in public schools altogether.”