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StarBulletin.com

Lieutenant governor denies desire for state faith


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POSTED: Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona denounced efforts to link him with an evangelical group that has been accused of trying to make Hawaii the first Christian state and supporting efforts to imprison gays in Uganda.

“;These despicable attacks on my personal faith are politically motivated and intentionally deceitful,”; Aiona, a gubernatorial candidate, said yesterday. “;To insinuate any support at any time for the imprisonment of homosexuals is unconscionable.”;

A resolution passed at the Democratic Party's Oahu County Convention on Saturday criticizes the International Transformation Network for trying to establish Christianity as a “;state-sponsored religion”; in Hawaii and “;organizing and inspiring”; Ugandan legislators who want to imprison gays.

Francis Oda, chairman of the Transformation Network's Global Council, said he was shocked to hear of the resolution and called the allegations “;ludicrous.”; The organization's mission is to “;end systemic poverty,”; he said, not to impose a state religion.

“;I have no idea what they're talking about,”; Oda said. “;ITN in Uganda has helped fix roadways, repaired a medical clinic, and that's all we do, help people. We don't get involved with their internal politics. We work with Muslim countries, Christian countries. We are trying to help people at the grass-roots level.”;

On Monday Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church issued a news release linking Aiona and other politicians with the network and its Hawaii chapter, Transformation Hawaii. Separately, community activist Carroll Cox sent a letter to Aiona last week asking him to dissociate himself from the International Transformation Network, saying he was offended by video showing Aiona praying with first lady Janet Museveni of Uganda in 2006, given the anti-homosexual bill now being considered in that country.

Kathleen Sands, associate professor of American studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, wrote an opinion piece in the Garden Island newspaper April 7 saying, “;Hawaii voters should be concerned about Aiona's active participation in Transformation Hawaii and the ITN global network and should ask him to explain how he reconciles his activism in those organizations with Constitutions he has sworn to uphold.”;

Yesterday, in response to a request from the Star-Bulletin, Aiona's campaign said he is neither a member of the International Transformation Network nor Transformation Hawaii, now known as Hawaii He'e Nalu. The campaign said he has participated in some of its events in his personal capacity. In 2005 he served as honorary chairman of a Transformation Hawaii rally held at the Waikiki Shell.

The campaign emphasized that Aiona participates in numerous events held by various community and faith-based organizations, and “;he supports people of all religious faiths.”;

“;As a former city prosecutor and state judge, and now as lieutenant governor, I have spent my entire adult life upholding and defending the Constitution, including the separation between church and state,”; Aiona said.

Michael Golojuch, vice president of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, said Aiona stepped over the line between church and state when he said several years ago that “;Hawaii belongs to Jesus.”;

“;He says he wasn't speaking in his official capacity as lieutenant governor, but if these are the true feelings of someone who wants to run for governor, he needs to understand that the Capitol is not a church and that desk is not a pulpit,”; Golojuch said.

A delegate to the county convention, Golojuch was co-author of the resolution titled “;Religious Diversity and Tolerance,”; which criticized the International Transformation Network. He said Aiona had attended an ITN conference in Argentina and prayed with the first lady of Uganda, and “;they need to cut all ties.”;

City Councilman Gary Okino, a member of the International Transformation Network, said he attended a conference in Argentina where more than $100,000 was raised for the network's work in Uganda.

“;We had no involvement with the government at all,”; he said. “;Ours was just a humanitarian effort.”;

The Transformation Network closed its office in Uganda long before the anti-homosexual bill was introduced last year, Okino said.

“;They say we're supporting Uganda's efforts to criminalize homosexuality—absolutely not!”; Okino said. “;We didn't even know about this. They're trying to get back at us because of our opposition to the civil-unions bill. They're trying to discredit us.”;

Okino said ITN's reference to transforming the state refers to Hawaii's people, not its government.

“;We believe we're the true faith, so we want everybody to become Christians,”; Okino said. “;When we say we're trying to transform the state, 'state' to us is a place, the place in which we live. State does not mean government. We would be against trying to convert the government to be a Christian government.”;