AUTHOR: Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley

Late last year, two atheists in Hawaii sued several churches who were renting public school facilities for Sunday services. The atheists filed suit under the State’s False Claims Act, which gives an insider the chance to blow the whistle on fraud, expose it, recover the money for the State, and then keep a percentage of the money for themselves. The atheists alleged that the churches underreported the amount of time they were using the school facilities and thus underpaid for that use, to the tune of more than $15 million in damages to the State over the last 6 years.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents two of the churches. We asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit, and thankfully, the Judge agreed and dismissed the case. While she did give the atheists the chance to refile their lawsuit if they believed they could sufficiently show fraud, the dismissal order means that the lawsuit they filed against the churches is over – a great victory for the Hawaii churches.

However, the lawsuit should never have been brought in the first place. A typical False Claims Act lawsuit is brought by someone working for a company who stumbles across documents that show the company is purposefully defrauding the government. The federal False Claims Act was first passed during the Civil War when the federal government became aware of widespread fraud among government contractors providing supplies for the Union troops. Apparently, paying $500.00 for a hammer was going on even back then.

But the False Claims Act was never intended for situations like this. The Hawaii churches committed no fraud. The schools they rented from set the rental rates and unlocked the school to give them access to it. To say that the schools had no idea how long the churches were using the school facilities is laughable.

The atheists in this case admitted that they brought their lawsuit after hearing about Alliance Defending Freedom’s Bronx Household of Faith case where ADF is fighting against an unconstitutional New York City School Board policy prohibiting churches from using school facilities. The Hawaii atheists liked the New York School Board policy and thought up this lawsuit to accomplish the same thing in Hawaii; denying churches the right to use public schools. But the dismissal is a setback in their radical efforts to remove churches from Hawaii’s public schools.

The churches have been good for the schools; they use the facilities at times when they usually sit empty, and the rent the churches pay goes into a fund to improve school facilities, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hawaii schools.

 In short, the Hawaii churches have done here what churches have always done – benefit their communities in numerous ways. They should be applauded for their efforts, not forced to defend an ideologically motivated, baseless lawsuit.

The atheists may refile their lawsuit. But if they do, we will defend the churches from these baseless attacks.

Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend churches and to ensure that the Church remains free to proclaim the Gospel message and to minister freely. If your church needs legal assistance, please contact us today so one of our attorneys can review your situation.

This post originally appeared here.