“If you have a small gathering in your home for any kind of religious meeting, you’re going to be harassed by the government to somehow square with the zoning regulations for a formal institution,” he says. “We’re getting people who now are getting phone calls from zoning agents because they have five or six people meeting in their home.”
Salman’s case, says Morgan, “should be a resounding wake-up call to every American who holds the right to worship freely close to their heart. Around the world, governments are using all sorts of laws to control and suppress religious gatherings. We cannot stand idly by as the United States does the same.”
“They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,” Salman told Maegan Vazquez for Fox News before his arrest. “They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home.”
Salman is unapologetic, says Whitehead. “I’m sure he’d do it all over again.” In fact, he is already doing it again – but this time while in jail, observes Vazquez. “Salman has assembled a Bible study group on site that has been attended by as many as 30 inmates.”
Although Arpaio has stayed out of the controversy, deputies selected Salman to lead inmates in prayer for the anniversary of the county’s rustic Tent City jail, “just before they dined on moon pies,” according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
Is Salman guilty? The defiant preacher says “the only people who came to our home were family and friends,” in a video posted online before he reported to jail. “Our home was not open to the public; it was private.”
The Salman family
“Christians deserve the right to gather at their homes privately just like every other American has the right to gather for their reasons,” his wife, Suzanne, told FoxNews.
In 2007, the Salmans first tangled with Phoenix city authorities after a neighbor complained they were holding “religious meetings” at their home. They were informed that their Bible study and worship could only be held in a building that conformed to Phoenix commercial code requirements. Salman says he made changes to the house to comply with requirements as best as he could, but then the city changed the code.
That was the beginning of what has since become an ongoing battle between Salman and the city of Phoenix. According to code enforcement officials, if Salman holds “worship gatherings” on his private five-acre property, it is officially considered to be “an occupancy” and must be subject to commercial code regulations.
In combating the city’s regulations, Salman has argued that the meetings are not public. “The only people who go in that building are my wife and me and our guests,” he says. “People have a right to gather at their home and on their property with their guests. Why can’t we have people as our guests?”
The Salman home
Phoenix claims, however, that Salman has been cited in violation of 67 code regulations on his property. The city in 2010 filed criminal charges against Salman. He lost, but attempted to appeal his case. The upper court refused to hear the case, sending it back to the local level. Salman then attempted to file a federal lawsuit, but District Judge James A. Tielborg, dismissed the case, stating Salman could not file until the state court’s review was complete. Salman re-filed when the state ruling was completed, but his challenge was again dismissed. After he had exhausted all his options for any legal settlement, he was forced to surrender himself to the Maricopa County Jail to begin serving a sentence of 60 days to be followed by probation. He was also fined $12,180.
Whitehead says a serious problem is that once a citizen runs afoul of bureaucrats
dedicatedly enforcing the law, he or she often is subjected to continuing scrutiny – much the way that police keep tabs on known criminals. “Once you’re in the system,” said Whitehead, “it’s hard to get out.”