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Churches have not cheated state, group says

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher / Associated Press


Attorneys representing churches being sued over renting Hawaii public school buildings for services said last week that the churches aren't doing anything wrong and the state knows how the facilities are being used.

Religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit by Mitchell Kahle, founder of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, and public advocate Holly Huber. They claim New Hope International Ministries churches, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu owe more than $5.6 million in unpaid or underpaid rental fees.

According to the lawsuit, Kahle and Huber undertook a "rigorous, yearlong, church-by-church, boots-on-the-ground investigation" and found that the churches underrepresented their intended use of the school buildings and that the churches' use of electricity and other utilities is excessive. The lawsuit claims the churches used false records to reduce or bypass rental fees.

Alliance Defending Freedom's motion on behalf of One Love and Calvary Chapel argues the lawsuit relies on public documents that don't show any wrongdoing. The lawsuit is a false claims act complaint, which allows for private parties to bring action on behalf of the government.

Kahle and Huber "relied on documents they received from the government," Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based alliance, said Thursday. "If the state knows about it, there's no need for any private party to expose the alleged fraud."

James Bickerton, a Hono­lulu attorney for Kahle and Huber, called that a "silly argument."

"Any time someone cheats the government, there's going to be a public record of the false claim," he said. "What makes the claim false is not in the public record."

Spokeswomen for the state Department of Education and attorney general's office declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Fernando Castillo, district supervisor for the New Hope and Foursquare churches named in the lawsuit, said it's not clear who is representing them because the lawsuit names New Hope International Ministries, which he said is the wrong entity to sue.

But he said he agrees with the alliance's assertion. "We found the same thing. It's not true that the churches have not paid. The churches have paid everything the school system billed them for."

The government is fully aware of the terms and conditions of the buildings' use, Stanley said.

"It was the government, through the school principals and the Department of Education, that set the rates," he said. "That's not fraud. That's an arm's-length transaction that the government is fully aware of."

A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for Dec. 19.

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LittleEarl_01 wrote:
Anytime the contract is violated, taxpayers are cheated.
on October 14,2013 | 06:15AM
localguy wrote:
I would not trust the New Hope or any other island Coven with anything. New Hope is the same organization that willfully thumbs it nose at city & state laws, placing their signs all over public sidewalks and state property to lure more lost soles to join them. The same organization that used city/state street light poles to hold their church flags. They lack Adult Leadership and are only in it for the money. We need to start taxing them just like everyone else. Fair is fair. Level the playing field, let them be audited, all finances available to the public just like any other charity. What have they got to hide?
on October 14,2013 | 07:04AM
allie wrote:
tend to agree. This church is disreputable. Kahle may be right: there may be some kind of conflict of interest situation with Don Horner, BOE Chief. That needs to be investigated. Did Horner, an incompetent, cut his church a sweet deal? I hope Perez will investigate this situation to determine the full facts. In Hawaii, you gotta follow the money and follow the real story.
on October 14,2013 | 12:19PM
kapoleitalkstory wrote:
"If the state knows about it, there's no need for any private party to expose the alleged fraud." - What a bunch of baloney!! If I understand everything - those contracts were based on the churches filing FALSE rental applications. The churches should be ASHAMED of themselves for STEALING from our keiki and the rest of the taxpayers!
on October 14,2013 | 07:36AM
daniwitz13 wrote:
People will use their "words" of choice you will notice from whom. If it is for their side, they use "words", like love, devotion, equal, equality, freedoms, etc. When it's a different matter, the "words" change to ASHAMED, STEALING, FALSE, ETC. Those "words" can equally be applied to their cause. Pity.
on October 14,2013 | 11:50AM
allie wrote:
The churches need to pay their full bill and the inept DOE needs to check up on the churches using their facilities.
on October 14,2013 | 12:20PM
kapoleitalkstory wrote:
We all noticed that you did not even try to defend the horrible actions of the churches that filed allegedly false applications.
on October 14,2013 | 03:43PM
allie wrote:
If they did that, they are wrong. I am just saying we need a complete investigation and the facts
on October 14,2013 | 04:23PM
st1d wrote:
render unto caesar what is caesar's. valid then, valid today. new hope sounds like they think we are old dopes.
on October 14,2013 | 09:10AM
awahana wrote:
Many are missing the big picture.
If our lolo state followed the US constitution, separation of church and state, this problem wouldn't exist right now. Why do we have churches using our schools anyway? Other community groups should be using them.
Our bureaucrats must get commission from the attorney offices. They should. They help funnel money away from the general fund to the lawyers with their constant mis-management.
on October 14,2013 | 11:45AM
allie wrote:
maybe but DOE said they needed the money. But did they charge the right amount? Kathy Matayoshi has been oddly quiet. Was she under pressure from the BOE to cut the churches a great deal? Perez needs to investigate this!
on October 14,2013 | 12:22PM
kaupena wrote:
If the rent should have been $10,000.00 per month, but my Landlord told me to only pay $5000.00 per month and a contract was signed, then should I give my Landlord $10,000.00 per month or $5000.00 per month??
on October 14,2013 | 04:36PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Even more to the point is the fact that the landlord only wanted 5000, but a couple of atheists decide it should be 10000.
on October 14,2013 | 05:57PM
Carl_C wrote:
The "landlord" is the State of Hawaii, and the BOE/DOE is our agent/trustee. If the agent isn't fulfilling its duties to the State because of conflicts of interest, sloth, incompetence, or all three, then a qui tam suit like this is precisely the proper device to rectify the situation. Go for it, plaintiffs!
on October 14,2013 | 07:04PM
hawaiikone wrote:
So how is the church at fault?
on October 14,2013 | 07:16PM
jp12 wrote:
Believe or not the US constitution does not have anything to say about the separation of church and state' -- no where in the Constitution is this addressed. The Constitution simply prohibits the government from establishing a religion or interfering with the free exercise of religion. You will find in the Constitution the right for a "free exercise of religion." You may also be surprised to learn how religious many of the founding father of the United States really are: http://park.org/Guests/Educate/HTALK/church.htm
on October 14,2013 | 06:05PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
bless you, my son. (sign of the cross with my palm).
on October 14,2013 | 07:30PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
What are they saying here, we had a contract, the state knew what we were doing (which means the state knew were were breaking the contract) so therefore we did noting wrong?
on October 14,2013 | 12:01PM
redassbaboon wrote:
Kahle and Huber ......." Bell-Ends"
on October 14,2013 | 02:18PM
loquaciousone wrote:
Well on one had we have the self-serving religious groups and on the other hand we have the efficient, effective DOE...who shall be trust and believe.......I'm betting the religious groups are making a monkey out of our ever loving DOE bureaucrats.
on October 14,2013 | 02:18PM
ARCH_808 wrote:
This problem is not only on churches but there are alot of instances where in athletics coaches of a high school are also club team coaches and they use the athletic facilities without even being charged for the use of the athletic facilities. and it is our tax dollars that is paying for all the utilities that they use.
on October 14,2013 | 04:19PM
allie wrote:
good point
on October 14,2013 | 04:23PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
and those club teams charge a huge fee to their members. we should be using our resources to investigate them and cut the religious folks some slack.
on October 14,2013 | 07:33PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
So, lawyers for defendants said their clients were not guilty. Well, stop the presses on that big reveal.
on October 14,2013 | 07:07PM
MrRealistic wrote:
If these churches can use the public schools for their services and they accept donations during these services (which total in the millions), why can't someone else use the schools for other businesses and accept only "donations". Obviously New Hoe makes bank or they wouldn't have been able to purchase the Sand Island building they also occupy. Also, they renovated Mid Pacific Bakken Auditorium so they could use it for free. With the money they take in offerings they buy millions of dollars of video equipment to put on their shows. They also do outside production like Hawaii Stars with that same equipment and personel. There must be some kind of law against that.
on October 14,2013 | 08:26PM
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