On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Asks Municipal Court to Grant Work Release for Phoenix Man Jailed 60 Days, Fined $12,000 for Home Bible Study
July 30, 2012
PHOENIX, Ariz. —As part of their ongoing efforts to secure the release of a Phoenix man who is serving a 60-day jail sentence for using his private residential property to host a weekly Bible study, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked a municipal court to grant Michael Salman a conditional work release, allowing him to leave Tents City Jail as necessary to manage and serve at his family-owned restaurant, a duty which his wife cannot perform as she is fully occupied with caring for their young children. Salman is serving a 60-day sentence in Tents Jail in Maricopa County for allegedly violating the zoning ordinances of the City of Phoenix by using his private residential property to host a weekly Bible study. Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that city officials arbitrarily and erroneously forced Salman to comply with commercial building codes based on the belief that because the Salmans’ activities involve “religious worship,” the meetings in their home constituted a church and had to be governed by building codes for churches, rather than residential homes. Others in their neighborhood, however, are permitted to assemble in their homes for a variety of secular purposes ranging from football viewing parties and poker games to book club meetings, without any threat of building code violation. Salman still faces the prospect of additional jail time as a penalty for allegedly violating 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.
“What happened to Michael Salman and his family—armed police raids of his property, repeated warnings against holding any form of Bible study at his home, and a court-ordered probation banning him from having any gatherings of more than 12 people at his home—should never have happened in America,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “If you follow the City of Phoenix’s assertions to their logical, chilling conclusion, what’s really being said is that there is no such thing as private property anymore—not if the government can dictate what you do, when you do it and who you see in the privacy of your own home.”
Since 2005, Michael Salman and his wife Suzanne have hosted Bible studies for family and friends. Attendees parked their vehicles on the Salmans’ 1.5-acre property. In 2007, after some neighbors allegedly complained about the gatherings, 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. 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 67 codes that apply to commercial and public buildings, including having no emergency exit signs over the doors, no handicap parking spaces or handicap ramps. The Rutherford Institute is challenging the city’s decision to prosecute Salman using commercial rather than residential building code regulations, as well as its assertion that Bible studies are not allowed to be held on private, residential property. City officials claim they can treat the Bible studies differently than family reunions, football parties or Boy Scouts solely because they are “religious worship.” Salman is currently serving his 60-day jail term in the Tent City Jail in Maricopa County. 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.