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Religious Expression by Government Officials -- Is Hawai'i Becoming a Theocracy (May, 2005)?

(c) Copyright 2005, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

In May 2005 Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona publicly expressed his Christian beliefs, provoking outrage from Hawai'i's leftists. In a commentary on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 Honolulu Advertiser columnist David Shapiro quoted Aiona as saying "Hawai'i belongs to Jesus" and "God is behind this [the Transformation Hawai'i evangelical movement]" and "I would like God to bless the people of Hawai'i and see God's love transform our state" and "Our schools will become God's schools; our community will become God's community; our city will become God's city; our Islands will become God's Islands; our state will become God's state; and our Hawai'i will become God's Hawai'i."

Surely Mr. Aiona has the same right as anyone else to freely express his religious views. The problem seems to be that in a letter expressing those views he signed his name with his title of Lieutenant Governor. However, even his detractors have not claimed that he used official letterhead stationery. His views are clearly personal, and nobody with half a brain would have any reason to believe his statements express the official policy of the government (especially since Governor Lingle is Jewish, and as Aiona's boss she probably would not go along with the Jesus part!).

Professors who write letters-to-editor, or even lengthy commentaries, often include their university title along with their name. When Joe Schmoe adds "Professor of Political Science, University of Hawai'i at Manoa" to his by-line, most people do not draw any conclusion that Professor Schmoe is speaking on behalf of his department or of the university.

Leftists have been attacking the Bush administration for its success in mobilizing large numbers of evangelical Christians to vote Republican. There's fear that Christians are pressuring the Bush administration to nominate anti-abortion judges to federal appeals courts and, soon, to the Supreme Court. But Christians are voters, so certainly they have the same rights as the leftists to vote for politicians they agree with, and to demand that elected officials should implement the positions expressed in the campaign platforms that got them elected.

In an Advertiser letter-to-editor on May 25, Nancie Caraway wrote the following about the political activism of Aiona and other evangelical Christians:

"This is ... a devastating attack on the notion of religious freedom and a democratic republic. Many Americans who are uninformed and critical of Middle Eastern societies and Islam seem to have no trouble imitating and adopting the repressive extremism of state-sponsored religion. How is this interface of evangelical Christianity and public life any different from those regimes? Weren't America's founding principles based on separation of church and state? And for good reason!" Caraway concludes that Christian evangelicals' political activism "poses the same threat to an open society as any theocracy 'over there'." [Islamic Middle East]

Nancie Caraway attacks Duke Aiona and Christian evangelicals for using religious views to shape their public expression of political opinion. She accuses them of violating separation of church and state, trying to establish a "theocracy."

Where was Nancie when her husband Neil Abercrombie participated in a church service in our Legislature?

On March 31 our Legislature held a hearing (actually, a propaganda rally) on the Akaka bill. Inouye, Abercrombie, and Case gave testimony and answered questions. At the beginning, committee chair Representative Scott Saiki called upon committee member Representative Ezra Kanoho to open the hearing with a prayer. Representative Kanoho told everyone in the room to stand up. Then he led the "congregation" in singing in unison the Hawaiian-language version of the Christian hymn "Doxology." (The English version, familiar to all Christian churchgoers, says: Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Amen). With everyone still standing, heads bowed, Kanoho continued with a lengthy prayer in English explicitly calling again upon Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to bring everyone together in supporting the Akaka bill. For a complete transcript of the 96-minute hearing, see:

Aiona's comments were not made in an official government hearing in a government building. The Saiki/Kanoho performance used a standard hymn of a particular religion, and a prayer invoking the names of the trinity of gods of that religion, as part of an official government legislative hearing. The Saiki/Kanoho performance was clearly a religious ceremony being performed by government officials being paid with taxpayer dollars while engaged in official duties. Why was there no outrage from Nancie Caraway or David Shapiro?

We often hear demands for government to bow down to ancient Hawaiian religion on issues like military training on "sacred land" at Makua, telescopes on "sacred" Mauna Kea, and banning genetic engineering of "sacred" taro. For discussion of how Hawaiian religion is used to assert political claims to racial supremacy, see:
For an explanation of how a religious creation legend (Kumulipo) provides a metaphysical theory explicitly used to support our existing governmental institutional racism, see:

Sixteen months ago McKinley High School was forced to remove the words "love for God" from its honor code that had been adopted in 1927, after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court. Mitch Kahle, of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, has pursued numerous issues of that sort; for example, forcing the Honolulu Police Department to remove "so help me God" from its oath of office. The HCSSC website at
describes many such victories. The Honolulu Advertiser, reporting the settlement of the McKinley lawsuit, said "The code, written by students in 1927, says: 'As a student of McKinley, I stand for honesty in all I do and say; for industry in study, work, and play; for purity in spirit, thought and deed; for courage to meet life's every need; for brotherhood of races all combined; and love for God and all mankind.' The code has been recited at graduations, put to music by the school's choir and included in the school's handbook and other materials."

Where are Mitch Kahle and the ACLU when we need them? At least a dozen of Hawai'i's taxpayer-supported public schools almost certainly open each day's activities with a prayer. These are the "host culture" public charter schools, where Hawaiian culture and the ancient Hawaiian religion are the focus of the curriculum. Learning ABOUT religion is perfectly acceptable, even for zealous defenders of church-state separation. Children should be expected to know about religions that have been important in world history, and should know about the ancient Hawaiian religion that was so important in the history of Hawai'i.

But it clearly violates the law to require public school children to actually engage in religious activity and prayer for a religious purpose (as opposed to play-acting or giving illustrative examples). Ceremonies honoring the god Lono are part of the makahiki festivals; prayers are used to open and close every school day; prayers are offered when taro is planted or harvested in the school's lo'i kalo; etc. The curriculum also includes building ethnic pride by teaching as fact the Hawaiian creation legend in Kumulipo, which describes ethnic Hawaiians as members of a family that includes the gods and these islands themselves as living beings. Thus ethnic Hawaiian children learn that they have a genealogical connection to the land and to the gods which is not shared by anyone lacking a drop of native blood. Pity the feelings of the children who have no native ancestry and must wonder where they fit in (they can never fit in as equals). Also pity the children with native ancestry who grow up feeling entitled to superior status and are in for a rude awakening later on. For information about the "host culture" charter schools and the attempt to create an apartheid "public" (i.e., tax-supported) school system, see:

Government officials are human beings like everyone else. They have a right to hold whatever religious views they wish. They have a right to express those views as individuals. The public benefits by knowing a political candidate's religious views, since those views can be expected to significantly influence his public policy decisions and his personal integrity. Lieutenant Governor Aiona was well within his rights to express enthusiastic support for the Transformation Hawai'i evangelical movement. By publicizing his views he also helps voters judge his character and make a better-informed decision whether to support his future political candidacies.

Government officials violate the Constitution when they use government resources to promote any particular religion, or religion in general. They most emphatically violate the Constitution when they engage in religious ceremonies (and intimidate others to follow along) during official government activities to promote legislation or to make it seem that God expects people to vote a certain way. Representatives Saiki and Kanoho should be censured for their behavior.

Nancie Caraway (Mrs. Abercrombie) pushes the panic button, screaming that Hawai'i is in danger of becoming a theocracy. That danger is real, but it does not come from the Christian evangelicals she targets.


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