-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
Michael Salman, a pastor from Phoenix, Arizona, is currently serving 60 days in prison. He was also sentenced to three years probation and was ordered to pay a $12,180 fine. Salman’s crime? hosting weekly Bible studies on his 4.6 acre property. Salman is being represented by John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, who has petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court.
Whitehead said: “That Michael Salman and his family and friends are not allowed to gather in private to study the Bible goes against every founding principle of the United States of America.” Sounds like a serious violation of the First Amendment.
The City of Phoenix doesn’t agree that this is an issue of religious freedom:
- [Salman’s] case is about the building that is used for regular assembly does not meet construction and fire code requirements for assembly
- All houses of worship in the City of Phoenix must conform to the same codes
The City of Phoenix investigated neighbors’ repeated complaints and found numerous fire safety standards violations. Salman has repeatedly ignored opportunities to comply with fire safety standards. Whitehead responded: “I don’t think God intended on us to obey unlawful ordinances. If so, He must be pleased with Hitler huh?”
Apparently those “unlawful ordinances” include taxes since Salman claimed church status for property tax exemption purposes.
Salman was found guilty of 67 Class 1 Misdemeanors, out of 96 civil code violations. Salman appealed and the Maricopa County Superior Court which upheld the convictions stating:
[T]he Defendant was engaged in public or church activities, and further that Defendant’s convictions did not violate his Constitutional right to religious freedom.