If you follow the right wing press and blogosphere as I do, you’ve no doubt heard the cries of persecution on behalf of a Phoenix man who, to hear them tell it, was arrested for studying the Bible. Outrage! Fascism! I heard he was arrested by Josef Stalin himself! An example:
When you hear of a pastor being arrested for holding a Bible study in his home what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Must be someplace like Iran where Christians are persecuted, right? Not this time. It happened right here in the good old U.S.A…
Today, Michael Salman sits in jail following a raid on his home because the city doesn’t allow people to hold private Bible studies on their own property!
Absolute nonsense. I have no doubt that thousands of Phoenix residents hold Bible studies in their homes every single day. What makes this case different? A whole lot. The city has put up a webpage with those pesky little things called facts:
The Michael Salman court case is about building safety. Building and safety codes are in-place to protect the safety and welfare of all of our residents. Some of the relevant facts in this case include:
- A house of worship is allowed in any zoning district in the City of Phoenix
- The 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
Mr. Salman had regular gatherings of up to 80 people. He held services twice a week and collected a tithe at the services. The building that he held services in had a dais and chairs were aligned in a pew formation. He held himself out as a being a church through the media (Harvest Christian Church) and claimed a church status for tax exemption purposes on his property.
Due to the regular, reoccurring high vehicular traffic in this quiet residential neighborhood, neighbors repeatedly complained about the public assembly occurring on his property. Because of the multiple, reoccurring complaints, the City investigated the activity and discovered numerous building code violations primarily related to fire safety standards. Once apprised of these violations, the City could be held liable for not enforcing safety code requirements in the event anyone was injured on the premises. Prior to commencement of prosecution, Mr. Salman was asked, repeatedly, to comply with the safety codes of the City. He chose to ignore these requests for voluntary compliance prior to the commencement of any proceedings.
And this has been going on since 2006. This isn’t a Bible study, it’s a church. Salman himself even calls it that. But he refuses to comply with the same entirely reasonable regulations that every other church in the city complies with. Just another example of why you should never take a claim of Christian persecution in this country at face value; facts actually matter.
Like Dispatches on Facebook: