The Solid Rock Fellowship Assembly of God is a church that is stationed inside of a low-income housing complex in Kalihi, Hawaii. Run by Pastor Taavao Alualu, the house of worship has been in operation since 1996. Despite its 16-year history, the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church (HCSSC), a group that values church-state separatism, is seeking to have the church evicted.
In addition to urging the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to evict the church and prevent it from using the public space, the group wants the state to collect back-rent that the house of worship didn't pay during some of its time using the building.
"It's basically a separation of church and state issue," explains David Tveraas, director of HCSSC. "The issue is this is a state building and the state is not allowed to be funding any private churches."
On the surface, the notion that the church used space free of charge may raise questions. But Pastor Alualu explains that when he opened the church, it was in an old building that was so run down that nobody wanted to use it. In exchange for permission to utilize the building, now called Towers at Kuhio, the faith leader claims he and his congregants agreed to renovated it.
"The place was all rubbish. In front of the building was all graffiti, parties, drug dealing, and gangsters," he said. "We prayed for it and I asked the management office if we can use it. They said the place is too old. It is not safe."
In the end, permission was apparently granted. Pastor Alualu claims that he spent $37,000 to reinvigorate the building, which has since been used for prayer meetings, outreach projects to youths, a food bank and more. But, despite these investments, HCSSC believes that the church must be booted from the property and that taxpayers are unfairly footing the bill for the church's use of the land. Alualu, of course, disagrees and believes that his church's contributions to the local community more than justify its presence.
"They knew that I spent a lot of money here, so that's my rent. And I'm willing, if they want me, whoever wants me, to pay more rent," he said. "Even though it's not fair -- I will."
The Hawaii Public Housing Authority is investigating the dilemma, with Executive Director Hakim Ouansafi claiming that he was only recently made aware of the atheist group's request.
"This entity (the church) has spent over $40,000 in renovation and maintenance and they do bring a lot of service to the community," Ouansafi said. "Having said that, it is something we were not aware of and are in the process of getting to the bottom of it to make sure that no laws are broken."
(H/T: Hawaii News Now)