Suzanne and Michael Salman
When Salman was taken into custody, assistant city prosecutor John Tutelman, who has publicly characterized Salman as a “rebel,” asked the court to revoke his probation and convert it into a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence -- since he had continued to hold worship gatherings on his property despite court orders.
Are such cases going to continue to pop up nationwide? Yes, says Whitehead. Indeed, Chuck and Stephanie Fromm in San Juan Capistrano, California, experienced a similar situation last year when bureaucrats cited them for holding Bible studies and religious gatherings in their home. Neighbors had complained that the meetings often attracted dozens of people, dozens of vehicles and too much noise. The Fromms were fined $300. City officials said they were in violation of a municipal code that requires religious, fraternal or nonprofit organizations in residential neighborhoods to have a “conditional-use permit” to hold such gatherings.
“What happened to Michael Salman — armed police raids of his property, repeated warnings against holding any form of Bible study at his home, and a court-ordered probation banning him from having any gatherings of more than 12 people at his home — should never have happened in America,” says Rutherford. “Yet this is the reality that more and more Americans are grappling with in the face of a government bureaucracy consumed with churning out laws, statutes, codes and regulations that reinforce its powers.”
“Incredibly,” Whitehead writes on the Rutherford Institute website, “Congress has been creating on average 55 new “crimes” per year, bringing the total number of federal crimes on the books to more than 5,000, with as many as 300,000 regulatory crimes.
Whitehead continues: “As journalist Radley Balko reports, ‘that doesn’t include federal regulations, which are increasingly being enforced with criminal, not administrative, penalties. It also doesn’t include the increasing leeway with which prosecutors can enforce broadly written federal conspiracy, racketeering, and money laundering laws. And this is before we even get to the states’ criminal codes.’"
“In such a society, we are all petty criminals,” wrote Rutherford recently in the Huffington Post, “guilty of violating some minor law. In fact, Boston lawyer Harvey Silvergate, author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, estimates that the average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal.
“Consequently, we now find ourselves operating in a strange new world where small farmers who dare to make unpasteurized goat cheese and share it with members of their community are finding their farms raided, while home gardeners face jail time for daring to cultivate their own varieties of orchids without having completed sufficient paperwork.”
The Rutherford Foundation’s John Whitehead
“This frightening state of affairs — where a person can actually be arrested and incarcerated for the most innocent and inane activities, including feeding a whale and collecting rainwater on their own property (these are actual cases in the courts right now) — is due to what law scholars refer to as overcriminalization, or the overt proliferation of criminal laws,” writes Whitehead on his website.
“Such laws," notes journalist George Will, "which enable government zealots to accuse almost anyone of committing three felonies in a day, do not just enable government misconduct, they incite prosecutors to intimidate decent people who never had culpable intentions. And to inflict punishments without crimes."
“Michael Salman is merely one more unfortunate soul caught in the government’s crosshairs,” says Whitehead, “only his so-called crime deserving of prosecution was daring to take part in a time-honored tradition that goes back centuries — gathering with family and friends at home for prayer and worship.
“Yet,” continues Whitehead, “as communities from New York to California adopt strident zoning codes crafted in such a way as to keep churches, synagogues and mosques at a distance, especially from residential neighborhoods, and discourage religious gatherings, these religious rituals are now being outlawed in America.
“For example, in an effort to discourage what it referred to as ‘illegal synagogues,’ the Village of Hempstead, N.Y., went so far as to create zoning laws that would make it nearly impossible for Orthodox Jews to hold prayer meetings in their homes.
“However, having bought into the idea that anything the government says and does is right, even when it is so clearly wrong, many Americans through their own compliance have become unwitting accomplices in the government’s efforts to prosecute otherwise law-abiding citizens for unknowingly violating some statute in its vast trove of laws written by bureaucrats who operate above the law.
“There was a time in our nation’s history," muses Whitehead, "when such an accounting of facts would have sparked immediate outrage."