Hawaiian Atheists’ Lawsuit Alleges That Churches Have Deprived Public Schools of $5,600,000

Mitch Kahle, founder of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, has been a successful activist for a few years now:

Mitch Kahle

In 2010, he protested an invocation prayer in the Hawaii State Legislature and won a lawsuit after being roughed up and arrested by police for “disorderly conduct.”

Last year, after a public school partnered up with a local church to raise money for a Christian charity, he wrote a letter to the Department of Education and stopped the Constitutional violation.

This is a guy who knows how to stand up for his principles, even if they’re unpopular.

Now, along with his partner Holly Huber, he’s tackling his biggest case yet.

It involves churches that rent out worship space at public schools. Normally, that’s fine and legal, but Kahle and Huber have evidence that five churches have not paid fair rental price at public schools for the past six years, resulting in a loss of funds for the state of $5,600,000. The evidence that they were at the schools beyond contract hours includes pictures from the churches’ social media sites and their own websites. (There are actually 35 other churches violating the law, too, but these five are the biggest offenders.)

Their lawsuit calls out New Hope Oahu, New Hope Hawaii Kai, New Hope Kapo­lei, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu as churches that underpaid the Department of Education by renting space for a certain amount of time and then staying much longer than the contracts allowed.

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Plenty of churches rent space from public schools. That isn’t the issue. The allegation is the churches are intentionally filing false applications to get charged less.

“By not paying for what they use they are directly taking money from our states children,” said Jim Bickerton, plaintiff’s attorney.

“They’re there so long and they’re so cozy they just take a whole bunch of extra time, they come in on Saturday even though they’re only supposed to be there on Sunday,” said Mitch Kahle, plaintiff.

This isn’t just some trivial issue. One of the schools in question, Farrington High School, recently had a roof collapse. That’s an infrastructure problem that could have been fixed if they had the $3,200,000 owed to them by New Hope Oahu over the past six years. The church said they used the school’s facilities for only 7.5 hours a week. According to Kahle and Huber, they actually used it about 50 hours a week (from Friday to Sunday). So they were only paying for 15% of the time they were there.

In another case, at Kapolei Middle School, New Hope Kapolei church was using “as many as seven air-conditioned classrooms, two teachers’ lounges, grounds, and parking lots without payment of any rental fees or utilities charges over many years.” That’s nearly $350,000 in unpaid fees.

How are the churches getting away with it? In part, it’s because they offer other things to the school — like uniforms for the athletes. But Kahle’s lawyer says that’s not good enough:

“Now it’s very hard when someone has given some uniforms to the kids and turnaround and say hey you cheated on your application form. So it’s easier to let it go,” said Bickerton.

The churches deny any improper facility usage. They’re basically arguing we’re good for the community so why not just let everything else slide:

“The three New Hope Churches mentioned in the claims are members of the Hawaii District of Foursquare Churches. We can assure the public that our churches have always honored all agreements made with DOE agents for the use of public school facilities. On top of paying the rent agreed, we have also given voluntarily thousands of dollars to the schools we use to upgrade their facilities and equipment. We are committed to be a blessing to our community,” wrote Fernando Castillo, Hawaii District of Foursquare Churches Supervisor.

By the way, here’s another twist to the case: The state’s Board of Education chair Don Horner also happens to be a pastor in the New Hope church system. The executive pastor at New Hope Oahu asked Horner to lower the rental fees and get rid of the provision that only let you lease out space for five years. Guess what happened after that…?

Less than three weeks later, DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi announced that she had deleted the five-year rule from application forms.

Talk about a serious conflict-of-interest

If Kahle and Huber win their lawsuit, the churches could owe the state up to $16,800,000, three times the amount they’ve shortchanged the schools (that is, if they are found to have knowingly evaded the law).

For the legal junkies out there, this is a qui tam lawsuit. That means Kahle and Huber don’t have to have standing or prove they’re affected by the churches’ deception in order to bring about the lawsuit. (As opposed to, say, Jessica Ahlquist bringing a suit against her school because she was directly affected by a religious mural.) They’re trying to help out the government by recovering these lost fees, and a qui tam lawsuit lets them do it. If they win, they stand to gain anywhere from 15-30% of the proceeds as a sort of reward for helping the state recover the rest of the amount.

This lawsuit was actually filed back in March. Hawaii’s Attorney General David Louie had five months — during which time the lawsuit remained confidential — to decide whether the state wanted to join Kahle and Huber in their lawsuit. For now, Louie has chosen not to intervene, so Kahle and Huber will act on their own as agents of the state. Louie may choose to join them at a later date.

Now that Louie has passed on joining them in the lawsuit, the files are no longer confidential. So here’s an exclusive look at the key documents.

When I spoke to Kahle last night, he told me that he and Huber were inspired to look into their state’s schools’ relationships with churches after reading the New York Times reports about the Bronx Household of Faith and its (ultimately unsuccessful) challenge to meet in a public school.


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  • Sean sean.hopehilo

    well well, isnt it interesting. I know of many churches that have paid their proper and agreed upon amount, so it would not surprise me that our friends who believe in nothing are actually believing in something – that they have a right to help out people. However, stating innuendo here on your wonderful blog is just like you saying that God is not real when you actually know God is real and vibrantly alive but you need to obfuscate the law and bring into disrepute those who you believe are wantonly criminal. If you read the complaint, you can realize that there is much that is unprovable and will be thrown out. Quite silly if you ask me, but being an atheist is not logical.

    The standard that you judge others is the standard that you will be judged by. So do not be surprised when the authorities in your life – whomever you actually believe is your authority because you cannot be your own authority and still be an atheist – come to you expecting you to act responsibly with your own self (money, time, etc…)

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    Let me get this straight. Are you really arguing that churches that violate their contracts shouldn’t be held to those contracts, because Jesus?

  • Sean sean.hopehilo

    Yes let us get this straight. If anyone renigs on a contract they should be held appropriately accountable. However there is no church in Hawaii that has legally renigged on a contract. No prosecutor has taken up the case, and the evidence appears flimsy. Sensationalism at the most at this point.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    So if an organization signs a contract that they will use a building for 7.5 hours per week and pay $X for the privilege, but the organization actually uses the building for 50 hours per week and pays no extra, the organization isn’t violating their contract?

  • Sean sean.hopehilo

    Heresay. No one has charged them. Just a suit. If a state passes a law and the Gov and AG decide not to prosecute is there a law being broken?

    To say that these churches did something will-fully in abrogation of their contract means that you know they determined to enact a contract in which the State of Hawaii was not a party too, did not understand, or was being misled. There is no evidence in the state, county/city level that these churches willfully broke a contract and were then to be evicted. There is no complicity between the state, city/county or any worker in authority and those churches or any other church. The whole meaning if this suit is to cloud the water and try to increase pressure on state officials to do something that you want, but is allowable and beneficial to ALL in the state. There is no intent by these two poor defenceless atheists to do anything but harm to the people of Hawaii and these non-profit and charitable organizations.

    I do not know anything other than what this suit alleges in terms of contracts, who broke what, or who enforced or did not enforce what. Your blogosphere is repeating innuendo and facilitating and until a judge rules there are no substantiated facts.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    So people who think this sort of contract violation has occurred should not gather evidence and then file lawsuits? Because Jesus?

  • Sean sean.hopehilo

    Merry Christmas and you judge whether this is being done for the good or detriment of Hawaii’s people

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    The good of, obviously. Schools shouldn’t be cheated of their dues, and they need every cent they can get their hands on. Education is obviously the greatest good.