Government Prayer Protesters Found Not Guilty in Hawaii December 5, 2010

Government Prayer Protesters Found Not Guilty in Hawaii

The latest battleground state in the church/state separation war is (surprisingly) Hawaii.

On April 29th, 2010, Mitch Kahle of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church and Kevin Hughes protested an invocation prayer in the Hawaii State Legislature:

When Senate President Colleen Hanabusa introduced a reverend to say the invocation, Mitch Kahle stood from his seat in the gallery of the Senate chambers and said, “I object. My name is Mitch Kahle and I object to this prayer on the grounds that it’s a violation of the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. I object.”

Kahle’s protest lasted about seven seconds. Then he stopped talking and sat down…

But the Sergeant at Arms wanted him to leave, Kahle resisted, and the resulting skirmish was all caught on tape — watch it the whole way through:

Looks like Kahle and Hughes got roughed up…

But did they put up a fight and start the whole physical part of the encounter?


Check out this video from a different perspective:

He made his 7-second protest and sat down. A very peaceful protest. It was Ben Villaflor, the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms (and former boxer), who escalated the physical violence.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of the “let’s interrupt you while you speak” form of protest. But Kahle was only vocal, not violent. And the state law permits that type of outburst. Not only that, this was not a bland, non-denominational prayer. This was prayer in Jesus’ name and that is, indeed, unconstitutional. The government cannot favor one religion over another and that was clear violation of the law. (Don’t believe me? Substitute “Jesus” with “Allah” and tell me how that would’ve gone over.) Kahle was right.

Despite that, he was arrested for disorderly conduct. Villaflor wasn’t arrested for anything.

On November 17th, however, a judge found Kahle not guilty:

District Court judge Leslie Hayashi needed less than an hour to find Kahle not guilty.

“Number one, there was no disorderly conduct. Number two, he has a first amendment right to speak in a public forum such as he did. And number three, the legislature was violating our U.S. Constitution as well as the Hawaii constitution by having these invocations,” [Kahle’s attorney William] Harrison said.

Kahle and fellow protester Hughes (who was also assaulted) are now suing certain government officials (PDF):

Kahle was interviewed on FFRF’s Freethought Radio over the weekend and explained his side of the story:

There’s no reason to have a prayer before the government begins business for the day. If government officials want to pray, they can do it in their offices before walking into the capitol building. It’s that easy.

Kahle did something courageous and he was assaulted for it. At least now, he’s been somewhat vindicated. It’d be better if the state government decided not to say a prayer at all as a result of this.

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  • Brice Gilbert

    Seems like a clear situation in which speaking out like that is perfectly reasonable.

  • Dan W

    Wow. Good to know that these two were found not guilty, and they have every right to sue. The ones who broke the law were the Sergeant-At-Arms and others, for violating freedom of speech. And the morons who violated the Constitution by having that invocation are in the wrong as well.

  • Miko

    First they ignore us, check.
    Then they ridicule us, check.
    Then they fight us, check.
    Then we win.

  • Peter Mahoney

    Wow. I admire Kahle for standing up for what is right.

    In this age of video cell phones, I think that abuses by the government will get easier and easier to document.

    The wildest part was seeing the Sergeant-At-Arms viciously attacking the camera man, who clearly was violating NO laws. Yet the Sergeant-At-Arms Bienvenido Villaflor and his henchmen attacked the cameraman like a pack of wolves. It would be VERY tough for Ben Villaflor and his thugs to argue that their attack was justified, against a peaceful bystander just because he had a camera. They only wanted to destroy evidence of their criminal abuse of power. They should go to jail for assault and battery.

  • Mr Z

    I don’t even want to talk about what was right or wrong… just FUCK religious nut-jobs. FUCK them. There is no room for theocratic tyrants in this land. None. I want to know where to support their lawsuit. I want to see prison sentences for this, loss of public office for this, and legal retribution. I AM OUTRAGED. There is no room in the advancement of humanity for theocratic thuggish morons. The state of Hawaii should be, must be, ashamed of this behavior. The governor of that state owes an apology to the rest of the Union for such behavior. To tolerate such behavior is to say that Hawaii needs no more tourist dollars.

  • It’d be a lot less offensive if they’d spoken up before the prayer, rather than sounding like they’re just shouting it down.

    The assault, of course, was inexcusable. I’m glad they were found not guilty.

  • James

    If he spoke up before the prayer then it would have been too soon, perhaps the minister was to deliver a completely non-secular prayer (yea right). In which case speaking up would have made him look like an ass.

    He had to wait until the minister clearly violated the state and federal constitution at which point it is his right, and his duty to stand up and object to the law being broken, just as a good lawyer will stand up and object when opposing council is making a statement rather than asking a question, or is out of line.

    He did just as he needed to do.

    Now that he has been found ot guilty, and the evidence is there he need to pursue criminal charges against the thugs that went after him. As does the camera man.
    And most importantly they need to not settle, to settle will be a victory for the idiots. They need to make sure this goes to a jury trial where the clear evidence of assault and oppression of free speech is seen by the masses.

    Barring that I just say we cut the damned state off and let them go back to grass skirts and human sacrifices. I figure the ICE epidemic there should wipe out the islands in about 10 years.

  • AxeGrrl

    Wow. I’m beginning to think that some of the religious supporters in the U.S. (the ones who see themselves as ‘righteous enforcers‘) enjoy looking like the frigging mafia.

    You object to us enforcing our religious expression (in a public-funded forum)? we’ll just forcibly remove you! You, a citizen who has the right to express himself verbally in such a situation.

    It’s sooooo sweet that this entire thing was captured on video.

  • JustDucky

    I guess the Hawaiian Senate is just following the example the Feds put in front of us:

    “Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State. ”

    Which is the biggest buncha bullshit I’ve ever heard. Waiting for prayers to the FSM, Allah, Loki, and Ganesh, since they don’t want to separate the gods from state…

  • Matteo Watkins

    This is simply more evidence that we do not actually live in a free democratic society, let alone one governed by rule of Constitution. It’s all lip service. Thank Dog we have people like Mitch Kahle and Kevin Hughes standing up for what is right. Thank you gentlemen for keeping alive my hopes that we can may someday persevere.

  • Mr Z, I admire your energy. I have to suggest though that you eventually switch to using your real name. I don’t know your attitude on that, but one thing I do know is that it’s relatively safe online anyway, to use your real name when criticizing religion. This is really for all activists who still don’t use their real name, not just you. :o)

    I’m also convinced that when we criticize religion strongly, and we don’t do anything at all to conceal our identity, we’re presenting a stronger argument for that reason. I think a lot of Christians want us to use pseudonyms, to keep us in check with the fear-threat.

    I’ve used my real name for years now, and I’ve said some of the harshest things against religion I have ever heard anyone say. So far, I’ve been safe, here in Texas, no less.

    Geeze, think of Mitch Kahle using his real name with all this in the air over there! Bravery brings strength! :o)

  • I wonder if there will be similar objections raised throughout the US now that the protest has been tested in law?

  • Bob


    Likely, we will hear another round of ‘it’s just ceremonial deism.’

    But that’s nothing atheists haven’t heard before. What will probably also happen is that ‘unauthorized recording of legislative sessions’ will become a crime.

  • justin

    watching it, I found myself holding my breath when it escalated to violence. If they felt they were in the right they should have let the entire episode be recorded. If they felt shame or doubt why didn’t they didn’t they just stop to think.

  • @Bob:

    That would be very disappointing but I suppose to be expected. Christians have a reputation for protecting their privilege while screaming about how they are persecuted. I suppose I should just stop hoping for better.

  • Wow. Please keep us posted with how this story develops! (Which I am sure you will, thanks.)

  • ACN

    Likely, we will hear another round of ‘it’s just ceremonial deism.’

    I’m not a legal anything, but it strikes me that the phrase “ceremonial deism” is one of the stupidest to enter our lexicon, it exists more or less only to protect things that christians like (god in the pledge and on the money) from the establishment clause. I think Martha Nussbaum of UChicago Law sums up my feelings on it very well.

    “Ceremonial Deism” is an odd name for a ritual affirmation that a Deist would be very reluctant to endorse, since Deists think of God as a rational causal principle but not as a personal judge and father.

  • Wow. Just wow. I am so stunned right now. Anybody still think we have nothing to fear from the religious right? This is the evidence plain and simple that we do. That was Christian soldiers in action.

    I am also in awe, however, of the bravery of these three: Mitch, Kevin, and Mitch’s wife. I don’t know if I’d have had the courage and if I had how classy I would have remained. I tend to shoot the bird at people like this and mutter loudly which tends to be pointedly ignored. Not half as effective. And wouldn’t get me as far in court.

    I think they should utterly see the civil court suit through. It’s obvious these thugs aren’t going to be prosecuted (believe it or not that’s up to the DA, not the victims) so a civil suit is what they have. Use it. Don’t settle and, especially don’t agree to any gag order. That’s the new thing in court settlements that I find very disturbing and nothing but a violation of free speech. Making a settlement upon the condition that the plantiff can’t talk, taking unfair advantage of often injured people’s desperate need for cash to survive on.

    Thank you for your courage and grace under fire, Mitch and Kevin and Mitch’s wife too. (Do we have her name?)

    Mr. Z, I share your emotions. Outraged and the feeling that this whole thing is unacceptable. I hope FFRF is going to help them fight this instead of stopping at the interview. I want to hit back and hard. Punching the sofa seems so inadequate.

    Joe, I’m taking your message to heart. I don’t know why I still use the pseudonym anyway. I link to my FB page. So I’ve decided to switch to my full name immediately. I’ll keep the muggle in parentheses for a bit ’til people know who I am. But, yes, you have a point and this video more than demonstrates that we need to stand up visibly to the Christian bullies.

    My grandson wants to be a cop when he grows up. He wants to protect good people from bad. I do not want to see him as an officer (he’s showing more and more signs of this being a deep passion rather than the usual little boy stuff, especially as he’s been saying it for a couple of years now) if he achieves his dream having to be put in a position of having to arrest good guys like Mitch and Kevin instead of the bad guys who are attacking them or facing insubordination charges for not obeying orders. Mind you, I’m not really sure what options a police officer has in this kind of situation (perhaps anyone who is one can clarify) but I don’t want to see him have to be a Christian soldier to be a police officer.

  • Cortex

    And here we were, worrying about how our tone might make them feel…

  • Bob


    I *like* the Nussbaum citation. Is it from a specific ruling or lecture?

  • First, I’m guessing the unwritten corrallary of “turn the other cheeck” is “kick the ass of those you disagree with on church-state separation issues.”

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that Jesus never said that one should kick the ass of those one disagrees with.

    Second, the folks doing the public prayer should in Jesus’ name should read what he said in the Gospel of Matthew:

    5 When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.

    6 When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you.

    7 When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers.

    Source — Matthew 6:5-7 (Contemporary English Version)

    Maybe folks should write the state and ask if they really want tourism business and if kicking ass when one disagrees with another’s religious views is good for getting tourists to visit their state?

  • What will probably also happen is that ‘unauthorized recording of legislative sessions’ will become a crime.

    that’s already happening. in relation to other incidents the recording of police brutality and murder, and not atheism, but yeah. also if you followed the prop H8 trial you’ll recall there was a ruling that said those proceedings couldn’t be live-cammed, because the H8ters claimed big ol mean queers would beat them up if we knew what they looked like, or something.

    bravo to the brave atheists and congratulations on their victory in court. sometimes, justice actually happens.

  • It’s very religious out here in Hawaii. Atop the local religion came a thick overlay of missionary zeal. The mormons and jehovah’s witnesses are particularly successful.

    I volunteer with the Red Cross out here, and we have to hold our meetings in a church. Once I showed up for my CPR certification wearing an atheist pin and my blood donation pins. The instructor asked why I donated blood if I was an atheist. The mindset is shocking.

    I’m very glad to see my fellow atheists literally standing up to it and proud that they are willing to pay the price.

  • ACN


    One of my friends linked it to me from an article in the UChicago alumni magazine from a while ago.

    You can find it here

  • Icaarus

    Wow, just wow. This really reminds me of one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite movies, The Majestic. You know, where the protagonist stands up the the ‘McCarthy-esque character’ and instead of quoting the prepared speech, quotes the 1st amendment. I thought the grandstanding presented in the movie was over the top Hollywood style embellishment, never thought I would see a more appropriate, and more obnoxiously treated example in real life.

    Just goes to show some things are really too bizarre not to be real.

    Just for completeness:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • For those that say that it was inappropriate to speak up during the prayer let me ask you — if a police officer came upon you while a criminal was committing assault against you, would you want the officer to to wait until the assault was finished before responding?

  • Jeanette

    Can someone who knows more about the law than me explain how it is unconstitutional to hold prayer in senate? I understand that creating laws about religion is totally unconstitutional, and as a secularist, I would hope prayer in the senate would not be condoned, but constitutionally it is technically okay, right? Seriously, I want someone to prove me wrong so I can use the argument later 😛

  • Jeanette

    Oh, but by the way regardless of the technical constitutionality of it, this was a totally inappropriately specific prayer and scary reaction on the sergeant-at-arms’s part.

  • cb

    Jeanette – the First Amendment prohibits the governmental establishment of religion – which means that it may not endorse any religion. The main issue with this prayer is that it is “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Which preferences Christianity, obviously. It’s an implicit endorsement, in violation of the establishment clause.

    The Illinois General Assembly hosts clergy to give invocations all the time, which is probably bad… But to my knowledge there’s no issue if it’s a generic prayer. This is constitutional in the way “In God We Trust” is: as a ceremonial invocation that doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Or so the Supreme Court says.

  • Jeanette

    Ahh, so it’s more an issue of the specificity of the “god” they were praying to. That makes sense (I guess that’s why they waited until the guy said “heavenly father” to protest). Thanks cb 🙂

  • Anonymous


    CSPAN – “Christian extremists disrupt Hindu Senate invocation”

  • Yeah, anonymous, and the interesting thing about that is the Hindu didn’t specify a deity. He just said a generic prayer to the “deity supreme”. Christians are persecuted by not being able to pray in Jesus name but let someone from another religion pray generically and suddenly they realize church and state ain’t really being separated despite the prayer containing only a generic reference to god. And doesn’t look like they had to fear the seargant at arms in quite the same way.

    They really need to do away with prayer in Senate chambers at all. Damn the Supreme Court cowards with their ceremonial deism. It’s nothing but divisive and how a ceremonial deity isn’t supporting religion over irreligion is beyond me.

  • monkeysuncle

    Just so we can make clear what “establish” means – even just in normal usage, let us look at the definition:

    establish (verb)
    1. to found, institute, build, or bring into being on a firm or stable basis: to establish a university; to establish a Medical practice.
    2. to install or settle in a position, place, business, etc.: to establish one’s child in business.
    3. to show to be valid or true; prove: to establish the facts of the matter.
    4. to cause to be accepted or recognized: to establish a custom; She established herself as a leading surgeon.
    5. to bring about permanently: to establish order.
    6. to enact, appoint, or ordain for permanence, as a law; fix unalterably.
    7. to make (a church) a national or state institution.
    establishment (noun)
    1. the act or an instance of establishing.
    2. the state or fact of being established.
    3. something established; a constituted order or system.
    4. (often initial capital letter) the existing power structure in society; the dominant groups in society and their customs or institutions; institutional authority (usually preceded by the): The Establishment believes exploring outer space is worth any tax money spent.
    5. ( often initial capital letter ) the dominant group in a field of endeavor, organization, etc. (usually preceded by the ): the literary Establishment.
    6. a household; place of residence including its furnishings, grounds, etc.
    7. a place of business together with its employees, merchandise, equipment, etc.
    8. a permanent civil, military, or other force or organization.
    9. an institution, as a school, hospital, etc.
    10. the recognition by a state of a church as the state church.
    11. the church so recognized, especially the Church of England.
    It should become clear from the majority of usages that “establish” and “establishment” means what case law says it means — to set up a church, to give preference to a religion or to religions generally as opposed to non-religion, to officially recognize religion by the state, “to cause to be accepted or recognized; to establish a custom” “the recognition by a state of a church”
    There you have it.

  • p

    “On April 29th, 2010, Mitch Kahle of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church”
    The link above in the article  is not working/broken

  • Weird… works for me!

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