Judge says it’s ‘premature’
to enter Maui church battle

At issue is property where a
congregation aims to build a chapel

By Mary Adamski

A federal judge told a Maui church congregation yesterday that it was "premature" in asking the court to affirm its right to pray and worship on its agricultural land in Kula.

U.S. District Judge Samuel P. King denied a request from Hale O Kaula for a preliminary injunction that would stop Maui County authorities from imposing land use law to deny church activity at the property.

King heard arguments July 24 from church attorneys challenging the June 2001 Maui Planning Commission action that denied them a special use permit to build a chapel.

"It is not clear that Maui County ever officially prohibited the members of Hale O Kaula only from meeting on the church's property to engage in religious activities," said King in his ruling.

He said a cardinal principle of federal law is that there must be a "real and present controversy" for the court to intervene but that this case "is not ripe for judicial decision."

Church elder David Jenkins would not comment until he reads the ruling, but said last night that he has documented several instances since the church acquired the property in 1990 when county Planning Department officials said no religious practice is allowed at the site.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that represents religious organizations around the country in First and 14th Amendment cases, represented the church. Its attorneys invoked the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 in asking the judge to declare unconstitutional the state and county land use laws applied in the church's case.

Maui County attorneys responded by asking King to declare the federal act unconstitutional.

Corporation Counsel James Takayesu told the court in July that it was not discrimination that led to denial of the permit, but concern about the lack of infrastructure.

The church property is on a private road with no waterline, and fire safety is a major concern on the drought-stricken slope, he said.

Neither Takayesu nor the church attorneys responded yesterday to requests for comment.

Hale O Kaula has already built a residence and a 1,792-square-foot "agricultural building," with a kitchen and bathroom, on its 5.8-acre property on Anuhea Place in Pukalani.

The special use permit application called for adding a second floor of 2,500 square feet to expand use of the building to religious services and other church functions.

Under state law a church is not specifically permitted on agricultural-zoned land, and thus a special use permit is required. The Maui Planning Commission refused a permit on the recommendation of a hearing officer who heard objections from other Anuhea Place residents, who had protested an earlier application.

Before the matter proceeds to a hearing for a permanent injunction, "the parties should be able to clarify what exactly is being prohibited," King said. "If, in the meantime, the plaintiffs request and Maui County officially prohibits, all religious worship on the plaintiff's property at any time ... then that matter would appear to be then ripe" for a court ruling.

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