Two churches in Hawaii sued by atheists for renting meeting facilities from local school districts contend the claim should be dismissed.
One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu were among several religious organizations targeted by atheists Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber. The atheists submitted the claim under the state’s False Claims Act, which allows “whistleblowers” with inside information to expose fraudulent billing by government contractors.
However, in a motion submitted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the churches’ attorneys assert there’s no billing, there are no false claims and there’s nothing wrong with what the churches have been doing.
“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,” said James Hochberg of Honolulu, co-counsel in the case. “This lawsuit’s accusations are not only false; they are downright shameful.”
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said churches that “serve the neediest in their communities should be welcomed, not driven out by false accusations.”
“The claims in the lawsuit are false and are driven by an atheistic agenda that is hostile to churches,” he said. “The undeniable fact is that these churches were at all times truthful, and they have paid all required rent to the schools.”
The motion to dismiss the complaint states Kahle and Huber “have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because they have not alleged and cannot allege that there were any false claims by One Love or Calvary Chapel.”
“Because the existence of a false claim is a necessary element of a False Claims Act complaint, and because [Kahle’s and Huber’s] allegations, even if taken as true, demonstrate that no false claim exists (or can exist), the complaint must be dismissed.”
In the motion to dismiss, ADF contends the case has no basis to exist.
“Relators allege that the churches, and several unnamed ‘Doe’ defendants violated [the law] because they conspired to violate the provisions of the Hawaii Act that are alleged. … A False Claim Act conspiracy not only is predicated on the existence of a false claim, but also imports the elements of a conspiracy,” the brief argues.
“There is no false claim in the facts they have alleged, nor can there be a false claim,” it states.
The atheists alleged that churches were not paying the correct rental rates, were not paying for utilities, schools were accepting in-kind improvements instead of rent, school officials were not charging for set-up and break-down time, and other violations.
But the ADF brief argues the allegations are “not regulatory violations, and principals and the [schools] have authority to set the terms of rental for school buildings, just as they would for any other renter.”
“Neither One Love nor Calvary Chapel violated any law, nor did they present any false information in their applications to the school for use of school facilities. If there is no submission of false information, then there can be no false claim. That is the case here,” it says.
The ADF brief says that although the plaintiffs “publicly accused the defendant churches of ‘stealing from public schools’ … they provide no support for such an incendiary and harmful allegation.”
ADF believes that in “today’s litigious atmosphere the relators’ lawsuit stands as a prime example of the type of lawsuit that never should have been brought.”
“The harm already inflicted on defendants’ reputations, which can never be fully undone, is precisely why the courts have set such rigorous standards in FCA actions – standards the relators have failed to meet in every respect,” the brief states.
“Their disagreement with how the government administers the school rental program is not actionable under the FCA no matter how vehement they may be. They have not come close to stating a claim upon which relief can be granted, nor could they state such a claim. This case should be dismissed with prejudice.”