HONOLULU, Hawaii — A Hawaiian court has dismissed the majority of an atheist lawsuit that asserted that several 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.
However, during a hearing on Tuesday, Crandall dismissed the majority of the refiled suit due to insufficient evident of false claims submitted to the government. ADF had asked the court to dismiss the challenge in totality.
“The only thing these churches have done is serve the schools and bring great benefit to their surrounding communities,” ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley said in a written statement. “No one benefits from this suit except the two atheists bringing it, who stand to gain financially if they are successful.”
“As ADF has said all along, their legal attack is baseless,” he continued. “The court did the right thing in gutting this lawsuit of its substance, and we are confident that the minor pieces that remain will be dismissed as well. We appreciate the serious research and consideration the court has dedicated to this ruling.”
As previously reported, one of the churches that had been a part of the suit, New Hope Church, agreed to pay $775,000 in February to settle the matter. According to reports, $200,000 went to Kahle and the rest to the state school system. The church, however, did not admit any wrongdoing, but rather stated that it decided to settle to avoid ongoing legal entanglements.