Whistleblowers (and FFRF members) Holly Huber and Mitch Kahle of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church claim in a lawsuit filed in March but only recently made public that five churches have shorted the state Department of Education about $5.6 million over the last six years in unpaid rent and other fees.
According to Hawaii News Now, the suit alleges the churches are intentionally filing false applications to save money. “By not paying for what they use, they are directly taking money from our state’s 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 Kahle.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, damages could be treble, with the churches owing the schools $16.8 million, Honolulu Civil Beat reported Aug. 15. The suit contends that the churches — New Hope Oahu, New Hope Hawaii Kai, New Hope Kapolei, Calvary Chapel Central Oahu and One Love Ministries — all filed false forms. Ironically perhaps, the three New Hope churches belong to the Hawaii District of Foursquare Churches.
In the case of Farrington High School, for example, the plaintiffs claim New Hope Oahu shorted the school $3.2 million over six years before the roof on the auditorium collapsed.
“The buildings are falling down and the state is still paying to run them and not getting reimbursed. It’s tragic. That $3.2 million might have put a new roof on Farrington years ago,” said Bickerton.
The plaintiffs have compiled more than 2,000 pages of documentation they said proves their allegations.
New Hope Oahu Pastor Wayne Cordeiro said in an interview with Hawaii News Now that his church had donated about $1 million in equipment and upgrades to the Farrington High auditorium before the collapse.
The plaintiffs claim in-kind donations don’t count.
Kahle and Huber said they’re helping public schools recover money that’s rightfully theirs but contend the Department of Education isn’t being helpful. “Instead of assisting us, they tried to cover up the information. They told us we were no longer allowed to communicate with the public schools,” Huber said. “I would call it stonewalling.”
Kahle was FFRF’s 2011 Freethinker of the Year and accepted the award in Hartford, Conn., at the 34th national convention.