PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Rutherford Institute has issued a fact sheet in the case of a Phoenix man who is serving a 60-day jail sentence in Tent City Jail in Phoenix, Arizona, and was fined more than $12,000 for using his private residential property to host a weekly Bible study, allegedly in violation of the city’s building codes. A municipal court judge for the City of Phoenix has since declared that Michael Salman may not hold religious gatherings at his home with more than 12 people in attendance.
In issuing the fact sheet to refute some of the misinformation being circulated by city officials, Institute attorneys point out that the City of Phoenix inappropriately subjected the Salman family to zoning and building requirements that are meant only to apply to public or commercial buildings, even though the Bible studies were intended only for family and friends. Institute attorneys are challenging the legality of Salman’s imprisonment as a violation of his First Amendment rights to religious freedom and assembly, in addition to challenging the City’s assertion that if a person holds Bible studies or other forms of religious worship at his residence, he is required to comply with all local laws relating to an actual church that is open to the public. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, asking the Court to intervene in Salman’s case.
“When you strip away all the propaganda about zoning code violations being peddled by Phoenix officials and really study the facts in the Salman case, you quickly realize that this case is about one thing only—the City of Phoenix’s misguided decision to single out and prosecute the Salman family simply because they were holding Bible studies in their home,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “While this case is certainly about religious freedom and the right to freely assemble, 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 home.”
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. 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 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. In June 2009, nearly a dozen police officers raided the Salmans’ property, searching for violations. Having determined that Salman’s weekly Bible studies constituted a church, city officials subsequently charged Salman with 67 code violations that apply to commercial and public buildings. In coming to Salman’s defense, The Rutherford Institute is challenging the city’s decision to force the Salmans to comply with commercial rather than residential building codes based purely on the fact that their activities are “religious worship,” while permitting group gatherings for family reunions, football parties or Boy Scout meetings. 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.