Serial anti-religion bullies switch targets
by Sarah Padbury
Posted 12/12/14, 11:10 am
Two atheists who recently targeted churches in Hawaii that rent space from public schools are continuing their assault on religious liberty—this time, in Michigan.
Mitch Kahle and Holly Huber moved back to the mainland after 15 years advocating for the “separation of church and state” in the Island State. They immediately helped found the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA), which already is attacking religious liberty there. MACRA sent letters of complaint to two school superintendents in Muskegon, alleging Christian clubs offered to middle school students during the lunch hour were unconstitutional, according to mlive.com, a Michigan news conglomerate. Although the groups met for two years with no complaints, the schools canceled them on Dec. 4.
MACRA’s Facebook page shows the group’s involvement in several community church-state conflicts, including removing a sign engraved with a scripture verse located in a county park’s wooded area. It also launched an attempt to remove the city of Grand Haven’s lighted nativity scene. If the couple’s activism in Hawaii is any indication, this is only the beginning.
Kahle’s first campaign involved a 37-foot steel cross on an Army base. He publicly objected to the installation in 1997, claiming the cross was “a blatant and obvious violation” of the First Amendment, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Kahle, 52, founded Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church and sued the Army. Officials agreed to tear down the 35-year-old display but cited annual maintenance costs as the reason for doing so. That victory was the first in a string of many attempts by Kahle and Huber to ensure Hawaii’s state and local governments not only remained neutral on religious issues but were void of religion altogether.
According to a YouTube video featuring coverage of the couple’s activism, their “victories” include pushing the Boys and Girls Club to remove the phrase “I believe in God” from its membership card; advocating for the removal of creationism as a theory of origin in public school science classrooms; placing a Darwin fish symbol above the Christian fish symbol on a Senator’s office door; opposing public schools’ closing for Good Friday; removing “so help me God” from the Honolulu police officers’ oath; and eliminating “love for God” from a high school’s honor code.
“He can sure take credit … for transforming [Hawaiian] society,” state Sen. Sam Slom, the sole Republican in Hawaii’s 25-member Senate, told me. “But I’ll tell you, none of the things he sued about extended anybody’s liberties, or created more freedom, or made Hawaii a better society.”
First elected in 1996, Slom has been in office since Kahle arrived on the island and has had many confrontations with him. Slom faced Kahle several times in television and radio debates and was present when Kahle protested a Christian fish symbol on a Democratic senator’s office door. Slom, who is Jewish, told me he responded by covering his office door with symbols from every religion he could find. He refused to remove them when Kahle threatened to rip them off, so Kahle sued. A judge sided with Slom, ruling that a senator’s door is not public property.
Slom said it frustrates him that “Christians and other religious people don’t have the guts” to stand up to Kahle. For example, with just the treat of a lawsuit, the Hawaii state Senate dumped its voluntary opening prayer, which dates back to America’s territorial days, and is legal, Slom said. During a 2010 protest over the prayer, police arrested Kahle, who sued and won a $100,000 settlement. The Freedom from Religion Foundation awarded Kahle its 2011 Freethinker of the Year award for his efforts.
His last campaign in Hawaii involved a lawsuit against five churches that rent space from public schools. Kahle and Huber claimed the churches owed the state’s Department of Education millions in unpaid or underpaid rental fees. After back and forth rulings in the lower courts, the case is on appeal at the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals.
Slom said he wasn’t sorry to see Kahle and Huber leave Hawaii and offered this advice for religious liberty advocates in The Great Lake State: “Don’t be threatened or harassed by these legal actions but enjoin any legal actions that take place. Stand for something.”
Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.