Thursday, September 20, 2012

Phoenix Resident Serves House Arrest for Home Bible Studies

For Immediate Release: September 20, 2012

Phoenix Resident Serves House Arrest for Home Bible Studies, Rutherford Institute Files New Court Docs Challenging Misapplication of Zoning Code

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Phoenix resident Michael Salman, who was jailed for 60 days and fined more than $12,000 for using his private residential property to host a weekly Bible study, has begun serving his ten-day house arrest sentence. In addition to being on house arrest, Salman also faces random home inspections 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. The Rutherford Institute continues to challenge the legality of Salman’s imprisonment as a violation of his First Amendment and statutory rights to religious freedom and assembly, in addition to challenging the City of Phoenix’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. Most recently, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a brief in support of a motion for Salman’s post-conviction relief with the Municipal Court of the City of Phoenix, which argues that Salman’s prosecution, conviction and imprisonment for not complying with commercial zoning codes on his residential property was erroneous.
The Rutherford Institute’s fact sheet on the Salman case is available at
“As increasing numbers of Americans find themselves being victimized by a government bureaucracy consumed with churning out senseless laws, statutes, codes and regulations that reinforce its powers and value systems and those of the police state and its corporate allies, the life is slowly being choked out of our individual freedoms,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “In such a society, we are all petty criminals, guilty of violating some inane law or other. This is not justice—this is bureaucracy.”
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.”


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Nisha Whitehead
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