Hawaiian Atheists’ Lawsuit Alleging That Some Churches Paid Unfair Rental Rates at Public Schools Dismissed by Judge

Back in March, Hawaiian atheist activist Mitch Kahle and his partner Holly Huber filed a lawsuit against a number of churches that were renting out worship space at public schools at unfair, low rates over the span of six years resulting in a loss of funds for the state of $5,600,000.

Mitch Kahle

This wasn’t just some frivolous case. Farrington High School was shortchanged approximately $3,200,000 by New Hope Oahu church, money that could’ve been used to fix a roof collapse at the school.

If Kahle and Huber won their lawsuit, the churches could have owed the state up to $16,800,000, three times the amount they owed the schools, if it was found that they knowingly evaded the law.

This week, that lawsuit was thrown out by a judge who claimed the evidence just wasn’t there:

“Churches who serve the neediest in their communities should be welcomed, not driven out by false accusations,” [Christian legal defense team Alliance Defending Freedom] 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.”

When I spoke to Kahle in October, he seemed convinced that the evidence was there. I couldn’t get in touch with him to get his reaction to this verdict.

I don’t know enough about the legal details to make a judgment call one way or another, but, from the outside, it sure looked like the state didn’t take much of an interest in the case. Instead of fighting to reclaim money that could’ve been owed to the schools, they acted like it would be wiser to just play nice with religious leaders.

I’m sure it’s complete coincidence that the state’s Board of Education chair, Don Horner, is also a pastor at one of the churches that got a low rate from one of the schools.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • $925105

    More special rights for the “persecuted” Christians.

  • Chris Wallace

    Won’t someone please think of the Christians?!

  • MarkTemporis

    You really don’t want to know what I think of these Christians.

  • ShhhImReading

    I see what you did there.

  • Anna_educator

    I heard about this case on Freethought Radio, they had a good case. These are not churches who serve the neediest in their communities, they are mega churches who fly in their millionaire pastor every weekend to preach. They have spent years using the public school facilities at no or little cost to themselves. What they have paid hasn’t even come close to covering costs of use, wear and tear, utilities, etc. This is another example of religious privilege in the courts, others would be charged with theft,

  • Madison Blane

    The fact that the churches can AFFORD to pay more is not relevant to the argument.
    If OTHERS were charged more for use of the school space, and the churches given preferential treatment by being allowed to pay less than the non-religious community members, THEN it’s a case where the churches should have paid more and didn’t, amounting to theft.
    Schools should have set fees for the use of their property that apply to all. There is nothing that requires these fees to cover costs of wear, tear, utilities, etc. What the law DOES require, however, is that all who use the property for non-school functions have equal access at an equal rate.

  • Anna_educator

    They went well beyond what the law allowed, which is the point they were making when they brought the case. There were no other organizations using the spaces for years beyond what was allowed by law, only some churches. And the tax payers were not getting adequately compensated for the costs of running these churches on school property, which, besides being a violation of Hawaiian law, is also a violation of the establishment clause. And keep in mind, the costs to run those utilities and wear/tear takes away from things like new textbooks.

  • bearclover

    If you read the entire article, including lings, it clearly says in the complaint that according to law, use is categorized into three tiers. The churches underreported how many hours they were using the facilities and lied about their tier so they could get lower rates. I’d like to see the actual evidence that the judge thought wasn’t strong enough.

  • Guest

    Which is a perfectly valid argument. The plaintiffs still have to prove that they have standing to bring the suit, and exactly how this personally affected or damaged the two individuals in the case, and even then, they can only sue for the revenue they lost, not the entire sum the church didn’t pay the school. Otherwise, even if they win, it will be thrown out if the churches appeal. These two Realtors say they are suing on behalf of the state, but do not show why they should be allowed to bring charges instead of the state. They are claiming money is owed to the schools, but have not shown why they are able to sue or collect that money on behalf of the schools. This is like saying your neighbor isn’t filing his taxes correctly, and claiming you should be able to collect them.

    And simply because their payment “hasn’t even come close to covering costs of use, wear and tear, utilities, etc.” as stated above, that doesn’t give the plaintiffs standing to bring the suit. The lost revenue would have to be sued for by the city or the schools themselves, not two individual citizens, in a situation where the city is having to compensate for the churches not paying enough to cover costs or the schools are losing revenue.

    The argument that “These are not churches who serve the neediest in their communities, they are mega churches who fly in their millionaire pastor every weekend to preach.” is not a valid argument, either. It doesn’t matter what the churches can afford when determining payment due, nor does it matter if they are somehow less deserving of the space than someone who would serve a more needy percentage of the population. The law allows for “general recreational purposes and for public and
    community use whenever these activities do not interfere with the normal and usual activities of the school and its pupils”.

    They say this fraud is occurring by ‘over 200′ churches’ but only name 5 individual churches with specific amounts of any kind and fail to offer proof that there are discrepancies between those other 195 churches’ actual use time vs. what they claim to have used. If you are going to claim widespread abuse, you have to prove it in more than just 5 instances. This case has holes. There are places those holes need to be filled in.

    The ONLY legal claim I see that they have is that the Churches are monopolizing the school’s space, (yes, it is a violation for the churches to have exceeded their 5 years maximum time allowed, but again, the plaintiffs would have to prove that they have standing to enforce this violation and have specifically been harmed by it). The only damage I can see them personally claiming is if they are denied a reasonable request for space in their area because of the Churches monopolizing space.

    Is it right for the churches to do this? No. But this is a case that should be investigated and brought by the state, not individuals.

  • Guest

    The old “No one has standing” defense… smh…

  • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_of_Bangor

    I’m willing to bet this is how the Christian legal defense team Alliance Defending Freedom felt afterwards.

  • Blacksheep

    “Farrington High School was shortchanged approximately $3,200,000 by New Hope Oahu church, money that could’ve been used to fix a roof collapse at the school.”

    Did the church pay less than the school told them too?
    If not, then it’s a deal they made – nobody was “short changed.”
    I’ve attended churches that have rented space from colleges on Sunday mornings, and it winds up being income for the school that they would not otherwise get. (being that it’s a Sunday morning).
    Also: an ongoing rental agreement (every Sunday) should be a better deal that a one -off rental for an event. In any business that’s an arrangement that’s common to make.

    I may not know the whole story – for example if the church promised to pay a certain amount and then refused to pay it, they are certainly in the wrong.

  • kk164

    Umm, what about the conflict of interest with the pastor/board member? The claim is not that the church did not pay, it’s that they paid much les than the going rate, a fact that should be easy to demonstrate and that, obviously, the theocratic state chose to ignore.

  • Chas Swedberg

    Yes, you don’t know the whole story, so why do you draw any of your conclusions? The details are easily accessed from links in this post.

  • http://jonvoisey.net Jon Voisey

    I can see this a few different ways. If the school asked them to pay a certain amount and the church stiffed them, then the church is at fault here and should be the target of the lawsuit.

    However, if the school asked them to pay a certain amount and the church DID pay that amount, then the church really did nothing wrong legally. However, the SCHOOL did, in giving special privileges to the church and the school should have been the target of the lawsuit for “respecting an establishment of religion”.

  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    Exactly. What on Earth are they doing suing the churches? The churches were just taking advantage of an offered deal. The problem is it was a deal that, if the facts aren’t otherwise truly bizarre, the school should not have legally been empowered to offer in the first place. Even if there was conflict-of-interest hankypanky going on, the culpable party is still the one that offered the illegitimate deal (e.g. Don Horner in his role as the state board chair, not Don Horner in his role as a pastor). Unless of course it can be shown that the churches as corporate bodies intentionally induced the conflict of interest for their own benefit (i.e. an almost certainly non-existent “let’s all ask our friend Don Horner to give us illegal price breaks because he’s on the state board” memo, or organizational meeting minutes to that effect.)

  • Artor

    This is exactly what I thought as I read the story. I hope Kahle can gather more evidence, and pick the right target when he re-files the case.

  • the moother

    Funny thing: judge says that churches are helping society when in actual fact they are leachers on society. Wake up, people. For the live of dog, wake up!

  • Madison Blane

    These two Realtors say they are suing on behalf of the state, but do not show why they should be allowed to bring charges instead of the state. They are claiming money is owed to the schools, but have not shown why they are able to sue or collect that money on behalf of the schools. The plaintiffs still have to prove that they have standing to bring the suit, and exactly how this personally affected or damaged the two individuals in the case, and even then, they can only sue for the revenue they lost, not the entire sum the church didn’t pay the school. This is like saying your neighbor isn’t filing his taxes correctly, and claiming you should be able to collect them.

    And simply because their payment hasn’t covered costs of use, wear and tear, utilities, etc. or that the school could have paid for the necessary new roof if adequate payments had been made, that doesn’t give the plaintiffs standing to bring the suit. The lost revenue and reparations for damages would have to be sued for by the city or the schools themselves, not two individual citizens, in a situation where the city is having to compensate for the churches not paying enough to cover costs or the schools are losing revenue.

    They say this fraud is occurring by ‘over 200′ churches’ but only name 5 individual churches with specific amounts of any kind and fail to offer proof that there are discrepancies between those other 195 churches’ actual use time vs. what they claim to have used. If you are going to claim widespread abuse, you have to prove it in more than just 5 instances. This case has holes. There are places those holes need to be filled in.

    The law allows for “general recreational purposes and for public and
    community use whenever these activities do not interfere with the normal and usual activities of the school and its pupils”. It does not state that the use has to help society in any way. The ONLY legal claim I see that they have is that the Churches are monopolizing the school’s space, (yes, it is a violation for the churches to have exceeded their 5 years maximum time allowed, but again, the plaintiffs would have to prove that they have standing to enforce this violation and have specifically been harmed by it). The only damage I can see them personally claiming is if they are denied a reasonable request for space in their area because of the Churches monopolizing space.

  • ScottG

    I’m not positive, but I think they indicated that since they were taxpayers in the district, they were on the hook for the shortfall. THAT was their standing. Since cases are usually dismissed or allowed to proceed much earlier based on standing, any “standing” dismissal would have happened quite a while ago. This is a similar argument that a shareholder would use against a corporation if they didn’t “maximize shareholder value.”

  • Artor

    This is like saying your neighbor isn’t filing his taxes correctly, and claiming you should be able to collect them.

    No, it’s not like that at all. Analogy fail.

  • dandaman

    When they loaned out my biology classroom in SC to a church over the weekend, all my snakes (3) ended up dead on Monday, no excuses or apologies given. Why, out of the 50+ classrooms they chose mine to use, I don’t know. still pisses me off.

  • Artor

    Someone thought the voices in their head came from the snakes. There’s biblical precedence for that, you know.