A man who refused to stop hosting a small group Bible study in his home in Phoenix has been fined $12,000 and sentenced to 60 days in jail for violating zoning laws. Michael Salman, an ordained pastor and owner of a local restaurant, was found guilty of 67 building code violations and will also be required to serve three years probation.
Salman had been hosting his study in his home since 2005, and the city became involved in the situation when neighbors complained of traffic and parking issues. Several months later firefighters entered his property and ordered a similar gathering to disperse. The battle between Salman and the city has continued and escalated since then, when Salman built a 2,000-square-foot building on the back side of his property and began to hold studies and worship gatherings there.
“They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,” Salman told FOX News. “They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home. If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted. But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes—that is when you have discrimination.”
The local prosecutor’s office says the situation is not an issue of religious freedom but rather of public safety. Vicki Hill, the chief assistant prosecutor, said to FOX News, “It came down to zoning and proper permitting…any time you are holding a gathering of people continously as he does—we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire—and that’s really as this comes down to.”
Salman and his attorney have filed an appeal, but he is scheduled to begin serving his sentence this week.