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Homeowner Jailed for Hosting Bible Study- should he have been?

Posted by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 6:35 AM
  • 15 Replies

Homeowner Jailed for Hosting Bible Study

By Todd Starnes

A Phoenix man who violated city zoning laws by hosting a Bible study in the privacy of his home has started serving a 60-day jail sentence for his crimes.

Michael Salman was found guilty in the City of Phoenix Court of 67 code violations. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail along with three years of probation and a $12,180 fine. A spokesperson for the city attorney confirmed that Salman reported to a county jail Monday afternoon.

Members of Salman’s Bible study group posted video of their teacher as he self-reported to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. It was an emotional scene.

“We believe that people should not be prohibiting other people from having Bible studies in their homes,” Salman said outside the jail. “We believe what they are doing is wrong. It’s private property. It’s our home.”

Salman embraced some of his Bible study members before offering final remarks.

“At the very end, after all is said and done, God will ultimately have glory in this,” he said. “We do this for the glory of the Lord.”

Someone off camera could be heard remarking, “I love you, pastor.”

Salman’s incarceration is the result of a long-running feud between the ordained pastor and the city of Phoenix over weekly Bible studies that Salman and his wife hosted in their home. City officials determined that the weekly gatherings constituted a church – and therefore violated a number of code regulations.

The controversy erupted in 2009 when nearly a dozen police officers raided the Salman’s home and a 2,000 square foot building in their backyard. The family had moved their Bible study into the building after the group outgrew their living room.

The charges that sent Salman to jail were a result of that raid – ranging from not posting exit lights above their doors – to not having handicap ramps or handicap parking.

Salman told Fox News Radio the attacks on his family were nothing more than a crackdown on religious liberty.

“They’re attacking what I – as a Christian – do in the privacy of my home,” he said. “At what point does the government have the right to state that you cannot have family and friends over at your home three times a week?”

But city officials said it was a matter of zoning and proper permitting  – not religious freedom. They said he was given a permit to convert a garage into a game room – not a church.

“Any other occupancy or use – business, commercial, assembly, church, etc. is expressly prohibited pursuant to the city of Phoenix building code and ordinances,” said Vicki Hill, the chief assistant city prosecutor.

The irony of that rule was not lost on Salman.

The Salman Family

“If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted,” he said. “But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes – that is when you have discrimination.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council said the attack against Salman should serve as a wake-up call to Christians across the nation.

“Any time religious freedom or the freedom of speech is infringed upon, Americans should be concerned,” Perkins told Fox News Radio. “We are seeing jurisdictions using zoning ordinances to crack down the exercise of religious freedom.”

Perkins said there is a movement in recent years for churches to move back to an Early Church model where Christians met in private homes – rather than church facilities. As a result, he said some communities are in fact cracking down on what people do in the privacy of their homes.

“We’re seeing more Bible studies, home-based churches, small groups meeting together,” he said. “and people are not able to do with their own property that which is an exercise of their religious freedom.”

Perkins also took issue with the city of Phoenix deciding what constituted a church.

“The definition is nebulous,” he said. “A family of more than eight people who gather for prayer could meet the definition of a church.”

“It goes back to religious freedom,” Perkins said. “As long as it’s not posing a threat or a nuisance to the surrounding property owners, people should be free to do with their property as they see fit.”

Salman’s friends have launched an online petition urging that he be set free. Click here.

by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 6:35 AM
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Replies (1-10):
HealeyExpansion
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 11:24 AM
1 mom liked this

I think there are so many questions that need to be asked before anyone can say Yes or No to the "should he have been jailed" question. It bothers me that people are jumping on the religious persecution card just because of the surface information. It sounds to me like there's more to the story that we're not getting... Like - Is he accepting an offering? Is he advertising as a local church? Is his non-taxable income coming from the services provided? These would all fall well within a zoning violation whether it was a church or a casino or any other business providing services from a residential location. I remember a woman in my neighborhood fighting for quite some time to have her home rezoned so she could provide her psychic/tarot/mystic services from her garage. Red tape is not fun, but it's a nature of doing business - religious or otherwise. 

Does anyone know if any of these questions have been posed or answered anywhere? I'd be interested to read much more on this incident... 

SisterPeach
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 11:35 AM
1 mom liked this

I totally agree. Also, when you get a large group together consistently there are zoning laws. I know that was part of the problem here.  Are there enough exits that all the people may get out of the house without getting injured in a fire? Is there enough parking on the street that his gathering will not absorb it all and inconvenience the neighbors?

Just because we have religious freedom doesn't mean we can flout the law to observe our religious freedom. It's more likely that his meeting is disrupting the neighborhood in some way, and therefore neighbors are complaining to the zoning enforcement. 

Quoting HealeyExpansion:

I think there are so many questions that need to be asked before anyone can say Yes or No to the "should he have been jailed" question. It bothers me that people are jumping on the religious persecution card just because of the surface information. It sounds to me like there's more to the story that we're not getting... Like - Is he accepting an offering? Is he advertising as a local church? Is his non-taxable income coming from the services provided? These would all fall well within a zoning violation whether it was a church or a casino or any other business providing services from a residential location. I remember a woman in my neighborhood fighting for quite some time to have her home rezoned so she could provide her psychic/tarot/mystic services from her garage. Red tape is not fun, but it's a nature of doing business - religious or otherwise. 

Does anyone know if any of these questions have been posed or answered anywhere? I'd be interested to read much more on this incident... 


Currymel
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 1:27 PM
2 moms liked this

So if he would have pitched a tent and lit the bbq grill, would he still be jailed? How many people come to an in home bible study? Jeez.

This place is beoming less and less The Home of The Free.

prenatalRN
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 1:34 PM
1 mom liked this

I agree. I think there is a lot more to this story. Also there is a difference between having some friends over several times a week to study the bible versus building a 2,000 sqft building in your backyard to have "friends" over for bible study. WAAYYY different!

Quoting HealeyExpansion:

I think there are so many questions that need to be asked before anyone can say Yes or No to the "should he have been jailed" question. It bothers me that people are jumping on the religious persecution card just because of the surface information. It sounds to me like there's more to the story that we're not getting... Like - Is he accepting an offering? Is he advertising as a local church? Is his non-taxable income coming from the services provided? These would all fall well within a zoning violation whether it was a church or a casino or any other business providing services from a residential location. I remember a woman in my neighborhood fighting for quite some time to have her home rezoned so she could provide her psychic/tarot/mystic services from her garage. Red tape is not fun, but it's a nature of doing business - religious or otherwise. 

Does anyone know if any of these questions have been posed or answered anywhere? I'd be interested to read much more on this incident... 


SisterPeach
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 2:41 PM
1 mom liked this

Enough people came that he built a two thousand square foot building in his back yard, which didn't meet safety requirements. I doubt pitching a tent would have raised the same concerns.

Quoting Currymel:

So if he would have pitched a tent and lit the bbq grill, would he still be jailed? How many people come to an in home bible study? Jeez.

This place is beoming less and less The Home of The Free.


momofsixangels
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 4:02 PM

 There was a man here who had a bible study at his home.Cars were everywhere and people living on the same street complained.The man was told he could not do this anymore

LoganTroyMom
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 4:12 PM
this IS absoloutely ridiculous. if he'd had a party 3x a week and no noise ordinances broken, nobody would care at all.
America: Where you are a bigot if you don't want a Muslim church next to Ground Zero, but Christians need a permit to host a bible study at home.

SMH
SisterPeach
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 5:08 PM

But he DID break laws. It had nothing to do with religion.

Quoting LoganTroyMom:

this IS absoloutely ridiculous. if he'd had a party 3x a week and no noise ordinances broken, nobody would care at all.
America: Where you are a bigot if you don't want a Muslim church next to Ground Zero, but Christians need a permit to host a bible study at home.

SMH


gmadiane
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 5:47 PM

seems a little crazy to me

HealeyExpansion
by on Jul. 11, 2012 at 8:47 PM
1 mom liked this


Quoting LoganTroyMom:

this IS absoloutely ridiculous. if he'd had a party 3x a week and no noise ordinances broken, nobody would care at all.
America: Where you are a bigot if you don't want a Muslim church next to Ground Zero, but Christians need a permit to host a bible study at home.

SMH

There would be the same violation whether he had a party 3x a week with the same number of people in a large "gameroom" or continued a Bible study. Your argument would suggest that the only religious freedoms afforded to Americans are to those who subscribe to a particular belief.

This article is not about religion; it is my opinion that a lot of people are focusing on the wrong part of the story (thanks, media friends!). If a fire breaks out in that 2000 square foot game room and someone died because there were not proper emergency exits for its size, then what? If a friend of a friend can't attend this Bible study because his motorized wheelchair can't access the building yet this is a "church" event, does the ADA apply?

I don't agree with your argument, but in America, you have the right to your voice - and that's one of the many beauties of this country.

 

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