Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Legislator defends
letter promoting
religious event

By Richard Borreca

Freshman Rep. William Stonebraker is denying he did anything wrong by informing Kaiser High School students of a baccalaureate service.

Legislature Mitchell Kahle, who represents a group of about 120 people, which he says "challenges any violations of separations of church and state," complained to the state Ethics Commission about Stonebraker.

"Baccalaureate services are purely religious, and therefore any formal affiliation with public schools or other government offices is prohibited under the constitutional separation of state and church," Kahle said in a news release.

Stonebraker (R, Hawaii Kai) said he did nothing wrong.

"I wrote a letter as an invitation to the graduating class of Kaiser," Stonebraker, who is the high school's wrestling coach and an associate pastor at Calvary Church, said. "The baccalaureate services are optional and run by the students and their parents."

Kahle, however, complained that Kaiser students and their parents were directed to make reservations to attend the service by calling Stonebraker's state office. Those who did, Kahle said, had the information taken by a state employee working for Stonebraker.

"The privileges and advantages of using a state Capitol office, assets and public employees for the promotion and organization of private religious activity are obvious," Kahle said.

"Were state employees, assets, funds materials or postage used to produce the mailing? Were campaign volunteers, funds, materials or assets used? Either would constitute serious violations of state law," Kahle continued.

Stonebraker contends that anyone who wants to reach him would do so at his Capitol office, and he didn't use any state supplies or postage for the mailing or service.

He said Kahle had complained to the Ethics Commission that Stonebraker held a prayer meeting at the Capitol. Stonebraker said the Ethics Commission said it is not responsible for enforcing allegations of constitutional violations.

Also he added, Kahle is objecting to something that has been going on for more than a decade, and former Rep. David Stegmaier also used to assist with the Kaiser baccalaureate.

Stonebraker said Kahle has been bothering legislators who put religious symbols on their Capitol doors.

"Something is motivating, some sort of religious hatred," Stonebraker said.

Kahle said he formed an organization, Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, to stop "violations of church and state."

He said the group is not a registered nonprofit organization and collects no money. For three years Kahle has sent daily Bible quotes via e-mail or fax to legislators who put religious symbols on their doors or in his words "violate the separation of church and state."

Kahle, who says he operates a "small technology business," said Stonebraker should be free to practice his religion, but "he just needs to be educated. There is a line, and he just needs to learn which side of the line to stay on."

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