A 2016 study estimated that religious organizations offer over $300 billion in economic benefit to our country each year. Yes, that is billions with a “b”. And that’s the most conservative estimate. Taking into account the value in goods and services that religious organizations provide, the estimate increases to over one trillion dollars.
So, you would think that communities nationwide would recognize religious organizations as a valuable part of our society. But a case out of Hawaii says differently.
One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu are two churches in Honolulu, Hawaii that used to meet in local schools after hours. The churches would pay rent based on an agreement that they made with the school. And the churches, on their own initiative, provided numerous benefits to the schools outside of the rent payments, such as new air-conditioning, sound systems, and paint.
Two atheists, Mitchell Kahle and Holly Huber, however, found out about this arrangement and sued the churches under Hawaii’s False Claims Act. They claim that the churches had been defrauding the government by paying substandard rent to the schools, even though the schools agree that the churches paid all the required rent.
A court originally dismissed this lawsuit but gave the Kahle and Huber time to revise their complaint. The court allowed their amended lawsuit to proceed and ADF appealed that decision to the Hawaii Intermediate Appeals Court. Today, ADF asked the appeals court to dismiss this case completely.
Kahle and Huber have a habit of attacking religious liberty wherever they go. (They have since moved to Michigan, where they have continued their campaign against religion.) Besides their obvious religious hostility, it appears that this suit is financially motivated, as Kahle and Huber stand to benefit personally.
The community gains nothing if the case is allowed to move forward. These churches were meeting the needs of local schools in exchange for meeting space. They provided a unique benefit to the public, as many churches do.
Unfortunately, this is not the only attack that churches have faced recently. And not only is religious liberty at stake in these cases, but also the positive impact churches make on their surrounding communities. For example:
- We await a decision in the Supreme Court case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. The Supreme Court will weigh in on whether the government can discriminate against certain individuals or organizations simply because they are religious. (The State of Missouri excluded Trinity Lutheran from participating in a playground resurfacing grant open to all non-profits simply because it is a church.)
But Trinity Lutheran opens up its playground to children in the surrounding community. Do the children on Trinity Lutheran’s playground deserve to be less safe than those on a secular playground?
- In Iowa and Massachusetts, government officials have tried to apply sexual orientation, gender identity ordinances to local churches, claiming that they are not permitted to preach on biblical sexuality and that they must open their bathrooms to members of the opposite sex.
These churches provide multiple services to the community such as meals for the needy. But government officials said they would be forced to open up their bathrooms to members of the opposite sex if they open up their facilities to the public. That would force the church to choose between these community service events and protecting the privacy of those using their facilities.
The churches serving the neediest in our communities deserve better.
And in One Love Ministries’ and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu’s case, the only thing these churches have done is serve the schools and bring great benefit to their surrounding communities. We should all agree that is worth defending.
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