PHOENIX, Ariz. — Following unrelenting pressure from The Rutherford Institute and a general public outcry over the incarceration in Tent City Jail of a Phoenix man who is serving a 60-day jail sentence for using his private residential property to host weekly Bible studies, allegedly in violation of the city’s building codes, Phoenix officials have transferred Michael Salman to a newer, indoor facility for the remainder of his sentence. The Tents Jail, begun in 1993 as a response to jail overcrowding, houses inmates outdoors in military tents with four Sky Watch Towers for security, stun fences around the perimeter, facial recognition computer software for inmate identification, and K-9 units and patrol deputies for additional security. Upon his eventual release from Lower Buckeye Jail, Salman will be subjected to home arrest and random home inspections on charges that he violated his probation by continuing to hold Bible studies on his private property after being ordered not to have more than 12 people gathered on his property at any one time. Rutherford Institute attorneys are continuing their legal efforts to challenge Salman’s detention as a violation of his First Amendment rights to religious freedom and assembly.
The Rutherford Institute’s fact sheet on the Salman case is available at www.rutherford.org.
“No one deserves to be subjected to the inhumane conditions in Tent City Jail, with its military tents, pink underwear, 140-degree heat, stun fence, watch towers and facial recognition software—certainly not a man who has been wrongly imprisoned simply for exercising his constitutional right to religious freedom,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Yet while this move to a new facility is an improvement, it does little to rectify the greater wrongs that continue to be perpetrated against this man and his family by Phoenix officials, including the future prospect of home arrest and random home inspections.”
Since 2005, Michael Salman and his wife Suzanne have hosted Bible studies for family and friends. However, after some neighbors allegedly complained about the gatherings, city officials got involved. In 2007, city officials ordered the Salmans to stop holding the Bible studies in their home, insisting that they were in violation of the zoning ordinance and construction code. The Salmans subsequently erected a 2,000-square-foot building in their backyard, large enough to hold approximately 40 people, which they proceeded to use for their weekly Bible studies. Attendees parked their vehicles on the Salmans’ 1.5 acre property. In June 2009, nearly a dozen police officers, accompanied by city inspectors, raided the Salmans’ property, searching for violations. Having determined that Salman’s weekly Bible studies constituted a church, city officials subsequently charged Salman with being in violation of various code regulations that apply to commercial and public buildings, including having no emergency exit signs over the doors, no handicap parking spaces or handicap ramps. Salman was later found guilty of 67 code violations. In coming to Salman’s defense, The Rutherford Institute is challenging the city’s assertion that “Bible studies are not allowed to be conducted in your residence or the barn on your property as these structures do not comply with the construction code for this use.” The Institute argues that Salman’s religious gatherings should have been treated as accessory uses under the regulations governing residential property. However, city officials claim that they can treat the Bible studies differently than family reunions, football parties or Boy Scouts solely because they are “religious worship.”