Most Christians in America would likely have never imagined that holding a private Bible study in their home could ever be considered a criminal behavior in their lifetime, but apparently, that time has already come.
Over the last 10 years, Michael Salman and his wife have hosted friends and family (numbering from 15 to 20 people) for such activities as Bible study, prayer, food, and fellowship. Hopefully still to most Americans, these would be seen as the most innocent of all possible private activities. It seems, though, that these activities were viewed as ‘criminal’ by the City of Phoenix, and Mr. Salman has now been sentenced to 60 days in jail and $12,180 in fines.
According to several reports, Michael Salman has been plagued over this issue by the City of Phoenix for years since city code enforcement officials told him that holding worship gatherings on his property would be subject to commercial code regulations, as this would be considered an “occupancy.” Salman’s weekly home Bible study gathering is private and only comprised of invited guests. It’s not open to the public nor publicly advertised, and there is no “church” sign marking the front of his property. His guests do not violate street parking laws as they legally park all their vehicles at a local park about a half of a mile away from the property. In an attempt to comply with city regulations, Mr. Salman erected a building in his back yard, which is sitting on about an acre and a half of personal land with a buffer zone of 3.2 acres behind it. Upon completion of its construction, the building became the new meeting place for the Salmans and their guests. The building was officially designated as an accessory structure to their home that would be used for recreational purposes and was found to be compliant with all relevant city codes.
According to Michael Salman himself, the city then amended their parking codes with consideration toward his structure and weekly gatherings (even though his guests did not park on or near the property) and insisted that the property must feature a designated parking area that included spaces for handicapped parking. He questioned why this was the case when he had previously complied with the then existing codes and when none of his guests were handicapped nor required such parking considerations. Salman indicated that the decision to construct the building was made after firefighters were sent to his home in an attempt to disperse the meetings in 2008, before he ordered them to leave his property. Then in June of 2009, police officers with a search warrant and additional city inspectors raided his home before citing him for 67 code violations.
When Mr. Salman pressed the city for a more specific explanation for their actions, they only stated that having “too many people” was a “safety concern.” When the Salmans then asked them how many people could be hosted in their home according to the city’s regulations, the officials’ response was “two.”
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