Here's a story that's bound to get your attention. A man in Phoenix has been arrested, convicted, and is now starting his jail sentence. What did he do to warrant incarceration? He built a building on his property where he holds a weekly Bible study. The city of Phoenix said the structure violates numerous codes, and thus he had to stop. He did not, and now he's paying the price.
Before we dive into this, I just want everyone to know that I'm going to use terms that I think are appropriate. I always try to describe an issue in the most straightforward way possible and avoid blatantly slanted rhetoric. I mention this, because it's important for this story.
Here's some background from Fox Radio:
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."
If you don't recognize Salman's name, you may remember his story. This is not the first time, his Bible study group has run into trouble with city officials. As reported by the Daily Mail:
Officials said the city has become aware of the meetings after some of Salman's neighbors complained about traffic congestion near his home, although the pastor insists that his guests would always park on his property.
In 2007, the Salmans received a letter from the city prohibiting them from carrying on with the Bible studies in their living room because it was in violation of the construction code.
After two years of relative calm, the feud between the City of Phoenix and the Salmans escalated when they erected a 2,000 square foot building in their backyard. Mr Salman said he applied for and was granted all the appropriate permits and the building has passed a city inspection.
So... it's unfair and unjust, right? I think so, but let's make sure we are dealing with all the facts as uncovered by the news reports.
First, what may have started out as a small Bible study in his home is no longer the case. The meetings are not in his home. They are in a 2,000 square foot building that has a cross, chairs, and a pulpit in it. If it walks like a church and quacks like a church... it's a church.
The permits Salman obtained were for a personal construction such as a game room... not a public gathering facility. As noted in the Daily Mail report, "A January 4, 2010, ruling made it clear that the Salmans are not prohibited from running a church or hosting worship services on their property, but if they do so, they must be in compliance with fire and zoning codes."
The building on their property is not in compliance with those codes.
Here are some reference links to get more of the story:
And here's a local news report:
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fox Radio that "any time religious freedom or the freedom of speech is infringed upon, Americans should be concerned. We are seeing jurisdictions using zoning ordinances to crack down the exercise of religious freedom."
So there you have it. Is this an attack on religious freedom or is it a case of zoning violations? What do you think?