Making Waves in Hawaii
Updated: Mar 13
Americans enjoy many freedoms and one of the most important is the freedom to worship and practice religion. This right is not only given to us by our government, but by God. That’s why at Mauck & Baker, we understand the importance of helping not only Christian churches, but congregations of other faiths as well. Recently, this involved a Hindu-Buddhist church in Hawaii that we were able to impact both legally and spiritually! Please read this inspiring testimony:
“We believe John Mauck and Sorin A. Leahu saved our church in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. We are a Hindu Buddhist Church that had been operating for 20 years on our 5 acres. Suddenly, the assessor’s office and the County Planning Department decided we were not a church. They called us a Yoga business and said ‘You can call yourselves whatever you like but the County doesn't see you as a church, we see you as a commercial business.’ The assessor’s office revoked our church status and wanted us to go before a volunteer board to decide if we were a church or not. We tried to explain that is federal law, not the jurisdiction for a volunteer board. While our church status was reinstated, the County moved onto another tactic, zoning and special use permits.
I contacted Ryan Lee at the Department of Justice in Washington DC to ask for help. He gave me the name of 5 law firms that specialize in protecting churches. I called and emailed all of them. Four wrote me back saying, ‘we won't be able to help you as we are a Christian values firm.’ Then, John Mauck called me back. John Mauck helped draft the Religious Institutions and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). He called me himself and spoke with me for about 20-30 minutes. He then said he would try to help and gave our case to Sorin Leahu. Sorin and John are fantastic. They are so knowledgeable, calm and strong. While the County has bullied and intimidated our church and other churches on the Big Island, they were not able to intimidate John and Sorin.
Working with county planners is so stressful. Especially when they tell you that they are shutting you down after 20 years and that you are not allowed to practice your religion on your own property. The County threatened to fine us if we were caught meditating together.
I had been through special-use four times before with our small church, all in Colorado. It is always a difficult process as county planners and building departments generally know almost nothing about church law. As difficult as it has been in the past, those situations couldn’t compare to how much we were being bullied by Hawaii County. However, I do not fault the Big Island which has been our loving home for so long. The two county planners causing us so much grief (the head of the Planning Department even phoned to yell at me for asking questions and asking for help) are from Seattle and Buffalo. We were not treated with Aloha by them.
Now with John Mauck and Sorin's help, we were successfully approved without litigation. This saves us a ton of money. That's huge for a small Yoga Ashram. Lastly, I had an unexpected reawakening of Jesus in my heart. Sorin sent me a short passage from the Bible which was completely in tune with my Hindu Buddhist Faith. I think it may have turned me into a Hindu Buddhist Christian. I grew up Catholic but had grown away. Working with these attorneys who have so much integrity and so much true spirituality opened me up to my roots. That they would be so kind and supportive to a non-Christian church was not anticipated. I'm humbled and grateful. Our church owes them a debt of gratitude.
If the church you belong to is being harassed by county zoning and planning, these are the people to call. Instead of being shut down and driven away from our home, it looks like we'll be able to go on and continue to be of service to others.
I am absolutely positive that this would not have happened without John Mauck and Sorin Leahu. We are grateful."
Faith Stone, Sec./Treas. SGRY Konalani Yoga Ashram