This guys built a church, but he’s claiming he just built a structure. The government is shutting him down because he has no ramps or emergency exits on his church, but he says it isn’t a church…
via Daily Mail
A Phoenix man has been sentenced to two months in jail, three years’ probation and more than $12,000 in fines for using his private home to host weekly Bible studies in violation of the city’s building codes.
‘They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,’ Michael Salman told Fox News Radio. ‘They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home.’
However, the Phoenix city prosecutors’ office has insisted that the issue has to do with public safety, not religion.
‘It came down to zoning and proper permitting,’ Vicki Hill, the chief assistant city prosecutor, told Fox News Radio. ‘Any time you are holding a gathering of people continuously as he does — we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire.’
According to court documents, Mr Salman was found guilty of 67 code violations. Besides the 60-day jail term and probation, Salman must also pay a $12,180 fine.
The father of six has argued that there is no difference between what he is doing and what millions of other people do when they host weekly poker games for friends or invite people over to watch Monday Night Football.
‘But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes – that is when you have discrimination,’ Salman told 3TV.
However, the Arizona courts consistently ruled against Salman – ultimately declaring that he was running a church out of a private dwelling, and that the city did not violate his constitutional rights to religious freedom.
The long-running feud between Salman and the City of Phoenix came to a head in June of 2009 when nearly a dozen police officers armed with a search warrant and accompanied by city inspectors raided him home near 31st and Northern avenues and combed the 4.6 acre property in search of violations.
Salman is the owner of Mighty Mike’s Burgers, and he is also an ordained priest with a master’s degree in biblical studies from the Western Theological Seminary, according to his Facebook page.
He and his wife, Suzanne, also run a local credit-card processing company and do volunteer work with a Christian organization.
The Salmans have been hosting Bible studies since 2005 for about 15 of their relatives and friends.
Officials said the city has become aware of the meetings after some of Salman’s neighbors complained about traffic congestion near his home, although the pastor insists that his guests would always park on his property.
In 2007, the Salmans received a letter from the city prohibiting them from carrying on with the Bible studies in their living room because it was in violation of the construction code.
After two years of relative calm, the feud between the City of Phoenix and the Salmans escalated when they erected a 2,000 square foot building in their backyard. Mr Salman said he applied for and was granted all the appropriate permits and the building has passed a city inspection.
‘At that point we took our Bible study from our living room – and we moved it into that building,’ he said. ‘We started worshiping in that building every weekend.’
However, Miss Hill, the chief assistant city prosecutor, said Salman has ‘mischaracterized the facts’ of the permit. She said that he was given a permit to convert a garage into a game room, not a church or anything else for that matter.
On June 11, 2009, Salman was charged with having no emergency exit signs over the doors, no handicaps parking spaces or handicap ramps.
‘That type of enforcement is against the law; it’s unconstitutional,’ Salman stated in an online video.
The biggest sticking point between the Salmans and the city has been whether the family of eight is running a church.
Mr Salman has insisted that the building is not a house of worship, although it certainly looks like one, complete with chairs set up for as many as 40 people, a pulpit and a large cross on the lawn outside.
‘Just because visitors come to my home three times a week and we discuss the Bible…if that’s their definition of a church then so be it,’ he said.
‘At what point does the government have the right to state that you cannot have family and friends over at your home three times a week?’ Salman asked.
A January 4, 2010, ruling made it clear that the Salmans are not prohibited from running a church or hosting worship services on their property, but if they do so, they must be in compliance with fire and zoning codes.
Salman’s attorney has appealed the verdict, but unless the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals grants an emergency injunction, the father of six will start serving his sentence on July 9.
But that may not be the end of troubles for Salman.
Assistant City Prosecutor John Tutelman, who characterized Salman as a ‘rebel’ for refusing to put an end to the Bible studies, asked the court to revoke his probation and convert it into a two-and-a-half-year jail term, according to Christian News.
Salman’s probation revocation hearing has been set for late July.