A Pentecostal denomination has agreed to pay $775,000 to settle a lawsuit over its use of public school buildings.
The suit was brought against New Hope churches by Mitchell Kahle, founder of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, and Holly Huber, a public advocate, reported the Associated Press.
Kahle and Huber alleged that three of New Hope’s satellite congregations had shortchanged the state for the use of school facilities and deliberately filed falsified rental applications in order to get a lower rental rate, a violation of the state’s False Claims Act. The pair further alleged that the state Department of Education had covered up the fraud.
“The state was subsidizing the churches for many, many years,” Kahle told Hawaii News Now.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group, intervened on the churches’ behalf. In a statement, an attorney for the group condemned the lawsuit. “Hawaii’s False Claims Act was never intended to bully churches into settlements when they did nothing wrong. Despite the settlement by some of the churches, this lawsuit never should have been brought in the first place,” said Erik Stanley.
The settlement in Kahle and Huber v. New Hope International Ministries does not end the legal battle over the churches’ use of the facilities. A judge determined that Kahle and Huber did not provide enough evidence of fraud but allowed the pair to amend the suit.