Pastor defies bureaucrats, goes to jail for hosting a home Bible study

Michael Salman faces a 60-day sentence and $12,000 fine after Phoenix, Arizona, police catch his family having church again.

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Phoenix zoning officials say the case has nothing at all to do with Salman’s faith, but everything to do with zoning ordinances, occupancy permits and insufficient handicapped parking spaces.

Whitehead says the case has everything to do with local city councils not paying enough attention to standardized, but highly restrictive regulations. Local council members, who are often volunteers, he notes, don’t have time to read reams of new rules, but trustingly adopt the regulations – unaware when rights are trampled. Whitehead cites recent cases in which a church handing out bottled water was warned that they would have to get a vender’s license first -- although the water was being handed out free. In another case, a church was told to shut down covered-dish dinners in its fellowship hall until it hired certified food handlers.

Salman’s case has attracted international attention. “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,” reported Snejana Farberov for the British tabloid the Daily Mail.

“An American pastor remained jailed in ‘prison camp-like conditions,’” reported the International Christian Herald, “for holding an unauthorized Bible study meeting at his home in the U.S. state of Arizona amid concerns about a possible ‘North Korean-style’ crackdown in the country.”

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“Attorney Says Pastor’s Arrest May be First of Many,” warns a headline from the ordinarily soft-spoken human rights group International Christian Concern – which is also concerned about

standardized rules that it says local U.S. city councils are adopting without consideration of human rights.

The Maricopa County Jail’s “Tent City”

“The arrest of Pastor Salman and his subsequent detention in a military-like compound for holding Bible studies in his home,” said ICC’s Regional Manager, Ryan Morgan, “would not be much of a surprise if it had taken place in an authoritarian police state.” Morgan echoed Whitehead’s concerns that “the same zoning laws used in Arizona to imprison Michael Salman for holding home Bible studies” are spreading nationwide.

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