Religion News blog is reporting that Pastor Michael Salman of AZ was NOT jailed for holding Bible studies on his property, but because of multiple city code violations on his building. Is this pastor misrepresenting himself and his case, even going so far as to put out a youtube video claiming religious persecution?
Well, there’s another side to the story. According to a fact sheet published by the City of Phoenix, the Michael Salman court case is about building safety — not about the right to hold Bible study meetings in one’s own home.
Salman’s church, Harvest Christian Fellowship (also referred to as Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church), holds meetings twice a week with up to 80 people attending. The church was found responsible for 96 civil code violations.
At one time he wanted to construct a 4,200-square-foot building in his backyard, to be used as a church. In the end, he received permission from the City of Phoenix for what he told the city was to be a ‘game room.’ He then started using this structure for his Bible study meetings — even though the permit explicitly states, “Any other occupancy or use (business, commercial, assembly, church, etc.) is expressly prohibited pursuant to the City of Phoenix Building Code and Zoning Ordinances.”
The church, registered as such for tax exemption purposes, was found responsible for 96 civil code violations. The Court specifically noted, “[T]he State is not saying the Salmans can’t run a church or have worship services at the location, but the State is saying that if they do so, they must do it properly and in accord with the building, fire, and zoning codes.”
On August 30, 2010, Salman was found guilty of 67 Class 1 Misdemeanors. He appealed but his convictions were upheld, and Salman was sentenced to serve time in jail.
Once there he promptly started a Bible Study, and — after one study was cancelled due to a lock-down situation — falsely claimed his right to hold Bible Studies in jail was violated. (to read entire story: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/26878/religion-news-briefs-pastor-not-jailed-for-holding-bible-studies-in-his-home)
Here is the report from a fact sheet put out by the city of Pheonix:
The Michael Salman court case is about building safety. Building and safety codes are in-place to protect the safety and welfare of all of our residents. Some of the relevant facts in this case include:
- A house of worship is allowed in any zoning district in the City of Phoenix
- The case is about the building that is used for regular assembly does not meet construction and fire code requirements for assembly
- All houses of worship in the City of Phoenix must conform to the same codes
Mr. Salman had regular gatherings of up to 80 people. He held services twice a week and collected a tithe at the services. The building that he held services in had a dais and chairs were aligned in a pew formation. He held himself out as a being a church through the media (Harvest Christian Church) and claimed a church status for tax exemption purposes on his property.
Due to the regular, reoccurring high vehicular traffic in this quiet residential neighborhood, neighbors repeatedly complained about the public assembly occurring on his property. Because of the multiple, reoccurring complaints, the City investigated the activity and discovered numerous building code violations primarily related to fire safety standards. Once apprised of these violations, the City could be held liable for not enforcing safety code requirements in the event anyone was injured on the premises. Prior to commencement of prosecution, Mr. Salman was asked, repeatedly, to comply with the safety codes of the City. He chose to ignore these requests for voluntary compliance prior to the commencement of any proceedings.