By Ryan Morgan
Washington, D.C. (August 14, 2012) - International Christian Concern has learned that Pastor Michael Salman is facing up to three-and-a-half years of probation as well as monthly government inspections for actions related to the Bible study he led in his Phoenix, Arizona home. Salman is currently serving out a sixty-day jail sentence after Phoenix authorities convicted the father of six of violating dozens of city code regulations normally applied to commercial properties.
Salman, whose arrest last month for holding a Bible study has sparked widespread controversy and garnered international media attention, is currently set to be released in early September. He then faces ten days of house arrest followed by three-and-a-half years of probation. Pastor Salman could also be forced to serve the remainder of his probation in prison if at any point he violates the terms of his probation, one of which bans Salman from having gatherings of more than 12 people at his home.
In addition, the city of Phoenix has reserved the right to carry out unannounced inspections of Pastor Salman’s property once a month in order to ensure that he is no longer holding Bible studies with more than 12 people. It was not immediately apparent if this number included Salman’s immediate family, which includes six children and Michael Salman’s wife, Suzanne.
The entire ordeal, which has seen the beleaguered Arizona pastor subjected to armed police raids, a $12,000 fine, and several weeks in a Guantanamo Bay-like prison camp, has stirred controversy over the possibility of zoning ordinances being used to violate citizens’ First Amendment rights to religious freedom.
In a recent posting, John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and one of the attorneys assisting in Salman’s case, pointed out that the zoning officials in Phoenix “had no problem with group gatherings for family reunions, football parties, Tupperware parties, or Boy Scout meetings.” He says that the “harassment” of Michael Salman by the officials began because they believed that “religious activities, even in the home, have to be governed by building codes for churches, rather than residential homes.”
A somewhat similar controversy over properly applied zoning ordinances has recently been highlighted in the case of Opulent Life Church. The church, a small southern Baptist congregation located in rural Holly Springs, Mississippi, has taken its case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after local city zoning ordinances banned the church from having a building on the town square.
Last September, a California couple, Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, were also fined for violating local zoning ordinances after holding Bible studies in their home. The fine was later refunded and zoning ordinances changed to allow for private religious gatherings after the incident sparked widespread outrage.
Meanwhile, Michael Salman’s family seems relieved that he will not be facing any additional jail time. After the judge’s order for three-and-a-half years of probation was announced, a Facebook post on a page related to Salman’s case read “Considering we were thinking it would be quite a bit more jail time, we are pleased with this outcome.”