Questions surround taxpayer money dedicated to Oahu church

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Changes have been made to a controversial proposal to the city’s budget after KHON2 started asking questions.

The church, New Hope Oahu, is building a $10 million expansion to its facility at Sand Island. A proposed amendment in the city’s budget includes $250,000 for it.

Staff pastor Ken Silva says the church looked for funds internally and externally, including the city.

“Why do you think taxpayer money should be used in this fashion?” KHON2 asked.

“Well, I would say it this way. Taxpayer money has been used for non-profits for a long time. So why not for a faith-based organization?” Silva said. “We do programs here and we do it out of this building.”

The money would go toward a new facility that provides programs for domestic violence victims, the homeless, and those who are incarcerated.

“It would be used to expand the building to further our outreach to the community,” Silva said.

University of Hawaii constitutional law professor Andrea Freeman said using taxpayer money for this expansion would be unconstitutional.

“They wrote the establishment clause into the First Amendment which says basically that the government cannot favor any religion,” Freeman said.

“This is not in any way supporting a specific religion?” KHON2 asked Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin.

“Oh no, no,” he replied. Martin said he will ask to change the proposed amendment.

“I think going forward, to clear up any misunderstandings, I’m going to ask the budget chair to repurpose the funds at the same level of activities, but not specify New Hope per se,” Martin said.

He wants to keep this proposed amendment open. It’s a change that will allow other organizations that also provide services to the community the chance to compete for the funds.

Martin plans to meet with Silva Thursday and let him know that the proposed amendment to the budget will support services and programs, not churches.

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