Hawaii Settles Court Case with Protesting Atheists for $100,000

On April 29th, 2010, Mitch Kahle of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church and Kevin Hughes protested an invocation prayer in the Hawaii State Legislature.

Long story short, the Sergeant at Arms wanted him to leave, Kahle resisted, the resulting skirmish was all caught on tape, Kahle and Hughes were roughed up in the process, and both men were arrested for disorderly conduct.

All this for what was actually a very peaceful protest.

You can read the whole backstory and watch all the relevant videos here.

Thankfully, in December of 2010, a judge found Kahle not guilty.

Kahle and Hughes decided to sue government officials over how they were treated, and we finally have word about the settlement:

Mitch Kahle and colleague Kevin Hughes are $100,000 richer, thanks to a settlement in their favor regarding a lawsuit against the state Senate sergeant-at-arms, staff and state sheriff’s deputies.

“We’re pleased with the settlement, primarily because it sends a message to government that peaceful protest cannot be treated violently,” he [said]. “And now that the sergeant-at-arms and sheriff’s deputies have received training as a result of our lawsuit, we hope that this type of experience never happens again.”

Mitch Kahle (left) receives an award from FFRF's Dan Barker

While the Hawaii House continues having invocation prayers, the state Senate has put a stop to the practice. But both the House and Senate are considering bills that would put a stop to “disorderly or contemptuous behavior”… in other words, they’re trying to make sure people like Kahle and Hughes can’t protest in a similar way in the future.

(Thanks to Randall for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Wild Rumpus

    The video angers me greatly, the reolution pleases me greatly!

    How can the SENATE get so many things wrong?

  • Curtst

    Religious police state here we come!  Bring the Sharia Law!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Ronin/1215010561 Kevin Ronin

      Sheesh, Curtst.  Don’t be such a drama queen. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/bdwilson1000 Brian Wilson

    Good news.  I hope he donates some of the $$ to the FFRF.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Ronin/1215010561 Kevin Ronin

      Yeah, fat chance.  It’ll go for another tower for his extraterrestrial search before it goes to to that.

  • J Myers


    But both the House and Senate are considering bills that would put a stop to “disorderly or contemptuous behavior”… 

    Fine–this means they would have to put and end to the House invocation prayers as well.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

    Okay first off I understand that this hops over the separation of church and state. Yes it does. But, the video, the protest, the “he drew blood from me I’m such a victim” rant is so sad. 

    The whole thing is staged or else why would the be filming this thing in the first place. Secondly the “he drew blood” comment. Really. Three words to ya “Man up son!” Stop trying to be such a victim. Sue the state. Get whatever organization involved that you want to help promote change for a cause you believe in. That’s fine. The “I’m a victim” card went out a long time ago. These two guys aren’t victims. I scratch on the pavement by a police officer is not a victim. 

    And I say yelling in protest in the chambers of a state government is NOT a peaceful protest. There is nothing peaceful about it. Just because he didn’t light a fire or throw a rock doesn’t automatically qualify this sad, staged attempt at trying to turn yourself into a victim is peaceful. 

    A peaceful, respectful protest is one outside of the chambers. If my neighbor is playing loud music, I call the cops and he gets in trouble for what… wait for it….disturbing the peace. If noise can disturb the peace in a residential setting, the same could be said for a government proceeding. If one disturbs the peace, then their protest cannot be labeled as peaceful can it?

    • Anonymous

      Well yes. It was staged in so far as they were taping the violation during the legislature.  But what happened after was not staged.

      Secondly while they may have been able to remove the man who yelled no one had any right to do anything to the camera man so in that case he definitely was a “victim”.

      And thirdly a peaceful protest just means that it is non violent which yelling is. So while you may not agree yelling at someone is considered to be peaceful.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

        Except the camera man was clearly in on it. He didn’t get kicked out of the house, he followed the guy who was being taken out and was all up in their business. As they were pinning the other guy down to the ground (more aggressively than the situation warranted) he stuck his nose and camera in too far and was keeping the police from doing their job. If I drive by and see a traffic stop, I’m pretty sure it’s not okay for my pull my car over, get my camcorder out and stick it 6 inches from the deputy’s face. Filming an assault is fine. Trying to make sure that you become part of the assault is stupid. Am I the only one not naive enough to see through this?

        If speech can be seen as a peaceful, then why do whistle blowers claim “hate speech” as soon as someone speaks up against someone with a less-traditional background. If I said that “I think being gay is a sin” in public I’d probably get cussed, dirt kicked  on my and if I did on the job I’d get fired. Isn’t that free speech? There was no violence by me right? 

        There is power in words and you know it. That’s why there’s a battle over free-speech in the first place correct? I don’t see how someone can be upset for not being allowed to voice their opinion and try to claim that someone else’s words are illegal and is deemed “hate speech”

        @ Drew: It’s a bit different when your interfering with an arrest versus being attacked. Yes, the camera man needs to toughen up. I would be ashamed if I was that guy and got money for getting a scratch from a police officer when I was trying to interfere with an arrest. Again, the take down of the protester seemed a bit rough. But, you can’t tell me that neither one of them had thought through possible consequences of what might happen. The knew this might happen. The camera guy put up more of a fight than the mocker did. 

        • Drew

          By “mocker,” do you by chance intend to say “defender of the constitution?”

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            Sure. Give it a different label if you want to. Again, I understand what he is trying to do. I’ve never had a problem with people drawing attention to an issue. It’s the way that it is done is the problem here. 

            He is disturbing the peace. Period. 
            In a modified version of this, one could spray paint a message on the door of another’s house as well. I wouldn’t be upset about the message. I would be upset about the way the person did it (a criminal act). 

            Check my original post. I agree that prayer should not be the public opening to a session. I’m a Christian and I believe that. I wish it was different, but this is what our laws say. I SO get that. But to call attention to it the way that he did AND to have his bud record it in hopes that “something” would go down is ridiculous and a bit pathetic. 

            • Anonymous

              “He is disturbing the peace”

              I disagree with this tremendously. He is disturbing an activity that is a direct violation of our constitution.

              What if he had been at an underground slave auction and he started yelling about the constitution? I mean, they were just normal god fearing slave owners having a peaceful assembly after all.

              Your very lame argument of disturbing the peace could be used against anyone anywhere for speaking or acting in any way that you objectively deem in violation of peace, in other words, its total bullshit.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

           “mocker”… as in ‘GAWD is not MOCKED”? M-Kay, I’ll give you that.
          “The Po-Leese is ALWAYS right”… Um-huh…

          Tell ya what, momma, go back to the fundy Xian board that told you to “just surf on by” here and tell pastor to give you a cookie for defending The Faith so well.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Ronin/1215010561 Kevin Ronin

            Come on, Jar, it you knew Itch Kahle you’d know he staged this thing along with intended provocations.

            Disorderly persons should be removed from the public and if they choose to resist, I don’t lose a whole lotta sleep if they get man-handled in the process.

            Erase the hate, bucko.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            Jay, sorry bro. No one told me to come by here. I have friends who post links from this site on their FB pages. That’s how I found it. So whatever.

            I never said that the police is always right did I? On the flip side, I’m sure a protester that supports your opinion is always right as well???? 

            I would admit that the police went a bit far as to tackling the first guy. I think I mentioned that already didn’t I? 

            The second guy just wants to cry “foul” as well. It’s almost like he’s trying to earn brownie points and can say “oh yea! I fought that fight” When in reality all he was doing was video taping.

        • Daniel Krull

          Perhaps we’re watching different video clips. Yeah, the camera man was documenting what happened, so they could have a record. Perhaps they were concerned about being roughed up, so they wanted to be able to have proof if that actually happened. He was not “all up in their business”, he tried to walk outside to continue filming, and one guy tried to block him. After he was able to get through, they started attacking him. He then continued to film as they piled on top of the protestor, but he never filmed “6 inches from the deputy’s face.” The security guards freaked out and started attacking both of them, and I find it rather disturbing that you’re claiming that he’s not a victim. I’m sure that if you were unjustly tackled to the ground by four guys you’d admit that you weren’t a victim.

          Also, your whole “man up” thing is bullshit. He attacked him without just cause, and they drew blood. It only makes sense to document that, to ensure that they could hold these people accountable.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            OMG the drew blood! Whah!!! Seriously? I get scratched up more in one solid day’s work then probably ever has. It’s not like he has permanent damage?

            Read your own post. 

             “he tried to walk outside to continue filming, and one guy tried to block him. After he was able to get through” 

            If a security detail is trying to block me and is telling me to do something than I’m going to do it. I would not try to push the issue and then cry about it once they fought back.

            • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

              “If a security detail is trying to block me and is telling me to do something than I’m going to do it.”

              Why? What makes you think you should obey some lawbreaking thug just because he’s ‘security’?

            • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

              I’ve worked security. I order you to review the philosophy of peaceful protest.

          • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

            There are plenty of reasons to want video of a peaceful protest, without planning on starting trouble: record of the activities they’re protesting in the first place, record in case someone is unfairly removed from the meeting, record in case of violence. I only came up with these examples because they all happened here.

        • Anonymous

          People like you are the reason they were taping it. If it wasn’t on film, you’d refuse to believe anything happened at all. Since they did film it, now you’re just reduced to concocting lame excuses for the actual lawbreakers.

          You’ll notice what happened when they actually went to court.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            So you are saying the court never makes a mistake? O.J. Simpson must really be innocent then I guess, eh? 

            • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

              Strawman. Unless, of course, you’d rather have the courts erring on the side of finding people guilty than innocent? And you’ve ignored the results of the civil trial. But I guess, as a Christian, cherry-picking information is the only way to marry real life with the inconsistencies in the bible…

              • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

                Nope, not ignoring it. Better yet, bring it up. That just further shows the inconsistencies of the court doesn’t it? That was my point in my previous comment. Thanks for bringing it up!

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              There are times when courts must determine facts (Did O.J. do it) and when they must interpret the law (was the level of force justified).  In the latter, it’s always going to be an opinion which some people will disagree with.  The only opinion that really matters though is that of the court.

              What I’d really like to know is what portion of the damages were punitive.  One of the reasons for a large award such as this is to to make sure changes are made.  If you don’t, then the message is “business as usual” and peaceful protesters have to worry about being injured. 

              If a security detail is trying to block me and is telling me to do something than I’m going to do it.

              I hope that’s not the case blindly.  Just because someone with a badge tells you to do something doesn’t in and of itself mean you should do it.  Consider it strongly, yes. Turn off your brain?  I’m sure that’s not what you meant.

              • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

                Nope. You’re right. It wouldn’t be a blind following, but I would be strongly considering it. Again, I have no problem with their message or what they are trying to accomplish. 

                I actually agree with them. I’m just not so sure their method is the best one and the “he drew blood so now I’m going to cry and sue because I’m such a victim card” is a bit weak.   Especially when they kind of expected some fire works to take place. Why else would they be videotaping?

                Just because the system can be played in such a way, I don’t think that means it is ethical to play it that way. 

                It’s as if I started going from restaurant to restaurant hoping to find a cup of coffee that didn’t warn me that it was hot. Then I “accidentally” knock it over in my lap. Oops! I think I’ll sue. The only difference is the point one is trying to raise. The process is eerily similar though. Trying to play victim when you know what’s going to happen.

            • Anonymous

              Uh, you did notice that he’s in prison now, right?

              The famous criminal murder trial was a decision by a jury that there was insufficient evidence to convict Simpson. This case is a settlement agreed to by Hawaii officials themselves. So essentially, you’re arguing against their own acknowledgement that they screwed up. Good luck with that.

              • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

                Yes he’s in prison, but not for murder. From what I understand, aren’t most “settlements” made b/c it usually saves the institution money in the long run? 

                My interpretation isn’t that a settlement means you are admitting guilt. Rather you are just trying to save some cash (court fees, lawyer fees, etc). I’m not for sure if this was the case here or not. I haven’t looked that far into it yet.

                • Anonymous

                  Lots of settlements do include a clause saying that they do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing, but that’s to forestall any further legal action – if you get someone to admit guilt, you can then sue for more.

                  But if someone’s sure they’re right and that a court will agree with them, they’re unlikely to settle, especially if they’re a big and wealthy institution whose members won’t be held personally responsible. You know, like a state legislature.

        • Anonymous

          Firstly it doesn’t matter if the camera man was “in on it”.  He was someone who did not do anything that could be considered disorderly.  He did follow the first man out and was blocked so that he would not be able to film what was going on which was wrong.  If you were watching the video he was clearly far enough away from the situation where it wasn’t required for security or whoever to stop him.  Not only that but the man blocking the door did not seem to have any sort of uniform denoting that he was even part of any security (1:40).  

          Also once the other guy was tackled and started to yell to “film it all” the camera man backed away and was chased by one of the men in suits (2:00). Clearly this puts him far enough away to not be interfering directly with an arrest.  

          I would agree that if you said that saying that “being gay is a sin” and were assaulted for it then that’s wrong and should not have been done so I’m not sure where you’re trying to go with that point.  You’re also mixing what you do on your own free time and what you’re doing on the job which are two very different situations.  In the former if you’re on public property there isn’t a whole lot anyone can do about it and for the latter if you aren’t being professional a business can fire you.  

          Finally no where did I say anything about speech being illegal so don’t try to put words in my mouth.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            I don’t mean to put words in your mouth. My apologies. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way. 

            Question from your last point: Does where you make a statement determine if it’s hate speech or just a flippant opinion combined with free speech?

            I have a hard time believing that people can turn off their opinion and values just because of the location of being on a job. I’m a teacher. 9 times out of 10 if asked about a controversial topic, I would not answer. If it was relevant, I would guide a discussion where the students can safely share what they think. But I wouldn’t give an opinion because I know I’m in a position of influence.

             But what if I slipped and it just came out (whatever the topic or stance may be). Should I get fired for giving my opinion or sharing my thoughts? Should people become thoughtless drones while they are on the clock or does free speech apply while on the job as well? I don’t know. I’m sure you and/or someone who is smarter than me and have thought more about it than I have will have a nice summative answer though. I’m curious what it will be though.

            What about teachers who do share their opinions? I’ve met a lot of teachers and college professors who make it known that they are atheists and that anyone who is not a naturalist is stupid and will fail their class if it becomes known to them. I’m not joking! Should these people be fired?!?!

            I grew up being fairly nonconfrontational so I didn’t speak up at the time, but should I have?

            • Anonymous

              Firstly I have to say that I’m quite sure that all kinds of “hate speech” are protected by the first amendment regardless of where you are. It’s one of the side effects of being able to have free speech is that we also have to listen to that which we don’t always agree with.

              As to whether or not an employer can fire you over something you say on the job I believe they can fire you for almost any reason as long as it is not due to you being under a protected status (race, religion etc). With most instances however you just have to follow whatever guidelines that are laid down by the institution you are working at.  

              The way you handle controversial discussions in your class (I assume you are a public school teacher) is probably the best course of action overall. You as a teacher aren’t there to give your own opinions to your students, you’re there to teach the material that you’re supposed to.   With your hypothetical however it would be hard to determine what course of action should/would be taken without a more specific example.  If it’s a small thing or a first time offense then I would say you probably shouldn’t be fired if it “slipped out” but if it became a problem then that would be a different matter.  Mainly it depends on what your job is and how you end up representing your employer.  If it happens to be the government then you have to follow some more strict rules on free speech than a private organization may have to.  

              Finally with your last example I would consider that to be a situation that shouldn’t be going on.  In a school if you’re doing the work and understanding the material I can’t fault you for not agreeing with it, from a grade perspective.  

              • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

                Oh! I like how you worded that. “Its one of the side effects of having free speech…”. That’s so true. This is why we all get to endure such groups such as the WBC who I really wish would go away. 

                Of course, wishing doesn’t solve any problems of course. Thanks for that.

                Also thanks for the comments about speech at work. You confirmed what I thought was true, but I like to hear it from smarter people than I. It helps for confirmation at the very least :)

    • Tom

      So what you’re saying mommaJ is that you feel it’s fine for them to be able to stop someone from filming an assault.  There is nothing in that video that is appropriate behavior for government officials.  Breaking cameras, yelling specifically to “get that camera!”, physically contacting and assaulting someone.  You call for them to “Man up son!”…wrong reaction.  wrong wrong wrong.  There is no “manning up” to oppression.

      Ridiculous.

    • Drew

      You’ve got to be kidding. Speaking up as the constitution is violated is a completely reasonable approach. The cameraman was clearly assaulted, and your suggestion that he “man up” is ridiculous. I suppose we should write off all assault charges on the grounds that the victim was simply not tough enough to handle it.

    • Anonymous

       Police officers twisting your limbs behind your back while smashing their knees into your back and head while grinding your face into pavement certainly sounds scary to me. Physically it would be kind of painful, but knowing that the person doing it to you has the pseudo-authority to SHOOT YOU WITH THE GUN HE HAS ON HIS PERSON is terrifying. The men who stood up to the machine in this case put their life at risk, while the risk of death was very very small, it was a risk none the less.

      I applaud them for not backing down and following up with a strong court case. It has brought a lot of light to a situation that needed exposed. They are champions of free speech and the law of our land.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Ronin/1215010561 Kevin Ronin

        Come on, Mr. Drama Queen, it you knew Itch Kahle you’d know he staged this thing along with intended provocations.

        Disorderly persons should be removed from the public and if they choose to resist, I don’t lose a whole lotta sleep if they get man-handled in the process.

        Itch Kahle is the antithesis of free speech and public law.

        What are you?  -A high school sophomore?

        • Anonymous

           Did you watch the video? His 7 second objection is hardly disorderly (coming from someone who works in law enforcement). He was grabbed and dragged outside AFTER finishing and sitting down. Naturally, at that point he would continue to object because now they’re assaulting him illegally.

        • Anonymous

          Since you asked, I’m a 29 yr old electrical engineer with integration experience in penitentiaries, my mother was a police officer who taught college courses in a federal prison and my stepfather was a prison guard and counselor.

          Of course it was “staged”. Did you think I was under the impression that they just happened to be wondering by the senate assembly with a camera?

          You think it is OK for the police to pummel a guy for being disruptive AFTER he is removed from the hall? Police brutality and use of excessive force earned this guy $100k. You may not lose sleep over it, but the guy managing the budget this year will, on the account of some out of control assholes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    “contemptuous behavior”? 

    Could that possibly be construed to mean “failure to stand and bow head during the invocation”?
    They sure love the Haole religion in the islands, don’t they?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Ronin/1215010561 Kevin Ronin

      1.  No, Jar, it means they created a disturbance and resisted when told to tone it down.

      2.  We always felt you’d grow up to be a bigot, Jay, and you’ve added ‘religious’ to your repetoire.

  • Alex

    Oh, wow, what a harvest of stupid trolls in the thread.

    On the topic, though… right on! Make the jackasses pay every time; it will bring about change very quickly.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Just because we don’t agree with them doesn’t make them trolls.  At least some of them stick around and support their arguments.  I still don’t agree, but hey, at least they care about us enough to give us every chance to not burn in hell forever.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

         Calling us “haters”, “bigots”, and “drama queens” is hardly “supporting their position”, IMO.
        Projection is more like it.

      • Alex

        If replying to just about every single comment with a condescending and inflammatory statement isn’t trolling, I don’t know what those guys are doing. Nothing better to do?…

  • Austin

    What a great shirt he has on.


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