Mitch Kahle, shown here demonstrating against Good Friday as a government-endorsed holiday at the state Capitol, led several efforts to remove references to God at state functions.

Activist fought religion
in government

Mitch Kahle’s efforts have forced
city and state agencies
to cut references to God

By Mary Adamski

Children don't have to assert a belief in God to play ball in Navy recreational facilities, and police officers no longer invoke God when they swear to do their duty.

When Navy Region Hawaii and the Honolulu Police Department deleted references to God earlier this year, they were the latest to react to challenges by Mitch Kahle, the founder of Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church.

Ten who made a difference
The Star-Bulletin is spotlighting 10 people who have made a difference in the community during 2002. This year's 10 is a diverse group but all have one thing in common: Each had a devotion to their cause and made a profound impact on Hawaii.

Kahle, one of the Star-Bulletin's "10 Who Made a Difference" for 2002, had other successful challenges this year. HPD retooled its Web site to remove a Gospel quotation about "blessed are the peacemakers" and poems with a religious tone.

Kahle's complaint about the prayer scheduled to start each City Council meeting is being reviewed by the city.

The Honolulu Fire Department declined to recall a safety guide that includes a nationally known fireman's prayer, but editing is likely in the next edition.

Kahle is perhaps best known for his first success, forcing the Army to remove a 37-foot cross at Schofield Barracks in 1997.

His calls led top officials to step back from signing invitations to the Governor's and Mayors' Prayer Breakfast -- now the Hawaii Prayer Breakfast -- and to create an open-lottery system for the tradition of allowing religious displays near City Hall during the "Honolulu City Lights" display.

"Mitch serves a useful function and plays an important role in making sure people in public office are aware of the principles," said Brent White, American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii attorney. "The vast majority of people in Hawaii are not Christian, yet our government seems intent on endorsing Christianity.

"It takes a great deal of courage to stand up, and a commitment to principle, even if it means making a lot of people upset," said White.

Kahle has been the target of pointed criticism, in pulpits and letters to the newspaper, as the purveyor of a godless society.


And Kahle cannot claim success in every case: An attempt to undo Good Friday as a state holiday did not fly; the state attorney general upheld state lawmakers' right to post religious symbols among other information on their Capitol office doors; and McKinley High School was advised by the state attorney general that a reference to "love of God" in its 1927 -vintage student code can remain.

Besides his advocacy work, Kahle, 40, and his partner Holly Huber are founders of Island Infotech, an Internet Web site development company.

Before attending Boston University, he studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and often plays bass with local jazz groups around town.

Born in Michigan, Kahle came to Hawaii in 1992. He tells about attending a mainline Protestant church with his family until he declared, in 7th grade, that he did not believe in God.

"He has said he was raised in a conservative background; I share that experience," said retired Methodist minister Sam Cox, who expressed admiration for Kahle.

"I think his is a reaction to the worst elements in religion. Someone told me that an atheist is a reaction to a fundamentalist background."

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