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Saturday, October 28, 2000

State asks
court ruling on
trustee restriction

The seven finalists for
Kamehameha Schools trustees
happen to be Protestant, so
the point is moot for now

By Mary Adamski

When new trustees for Kamehameha Schools are named Friday, will Bernice Pauahi Bishop's requirement that the trustees be Protestant apply?

That's the question being asked by the state Attorney General's office, which filed papers yesterday asking the state Probate Court to decide whether the "Protestants only" restriction stands.

The state asked Circuit Judge Kevin Chang to rule whether the 19th Century religious bias can be applied in the civil rights climate of the 21st Century. The court should either enforce the qualification or "enter an order permitting a deviation from the will," the court papers say.

The only qualification that the Hawaiian princess mentioned in her 1884 will was that trustees be selected "from persons of the Protestant religion," the attorney general pointed out.

It is a restriction that Hawaii Supreme Court justices decided to override in 1994, saying legal canons prohibited state courts from discriminating on religious grounds. But, the state said, the justices announced their decision in a press release but didn't make a ruling at that time.

Chang is overseeing the restructuring of the five-member board which will direct the multimillion-dollar trust formerly called Bishop Estate.

He is scheduled to name the new trustees next Friday, selecting from seven finalists nominated by a screening committee.

The committee did not provide information about the religion of the finalists nor has it responded to his request for that information, Attorney General Earl Anzai said in his response to the trustee screening committee report.

Committee Chairman Roy Benham said yesterday that the selection committee neither asked the question nor considered religion while sorting through more than 200 applicants. "We lucked out; all the seven (finalists) are Protestants," he said.

Benham, Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association president, said the religion question was raised by the student-parent-teacher group Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi. "We did not ask that; no one does except a religious school. We felt the will had to comply to the law of the land. I maintain that because the estate is tax exempt, from both federal and state, we must abide by provisions of both those bodies."

It's not the first time the "Protestants only" measure has been knocked down and it wouldn't be the first time the Bishop will is tweaked.

The will also calls for Hawaii Supreme Court justices to make the trustee selection, but they relinquished that task in response to criticism two years ago.

When high-court justices announced in 1994 that they would disregard the "Protestants only" qualification, they had been advised by the Commission on Judicial Conduct that legal canons prohibited them from selections "that are influenced by religious or racial discrimination."

Their decision came months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Kamehameha Schools' policy of hiring only Protestants as teachers. The decision came in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit brought by a non-Protestant teacher who was denied a job. The high court did not accept the Kamehameha Schools argument that it was exempt as a religious school from the prohibition on religious discrimination.

The state says the court has to act because the question will continue to arise as new trustees are chosen in the future.

"The time has come for the court to clearly address the 'lingering question' of whether vacancies in the board of trustees must continue to be filled from persons of the Protestant religion only."

Kamehameha Schools archive

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