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Two sides to every story

This looked like an interesting First Amendment story: “Attorney for Pastor jailed in Arizona speaks out” (capitalization as in the original).

Last week we brought you a story about Michael Salman, a Pastor in Arizona who surrendered himself to authorities to face two months in prison. His crime? Holding bible studies in his home. Mr. Salman faced a judge today and things don’t appear to be getting any better. The prosecution is pushing for a harsher punishment for his alleged crime.

The attorney is John Whitehead, of the Rutherford Institute. Hmm, that’s inauspicious. Here’s his statement regarding his client’s case.

Mr. Salman was found guilty of one count of violating probation for holding bible studies of more than 12 people. Where she got the number baffles me. Maybe she got it from Jesus and the Disciples, but in that case it would be 13…

The danger of this case is the government is trying to establish what is and isn’t a church. When it does that they are overstepping the boundary. This violates the very foundation of that Amendment and the Establishment Clause.

Ok, a government trying to imprison people just for holding Bible studies in their private home. Whitehead is right, this is a flagrant and serious violation of the First Amendment. Or is it?

Let’s look at the government’s side of the story.

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.

I think they must be missing the point. The First Amendment isn’t there to protect religious freedom. The First Amendment is there to ensure that Christians never need to obey any laws they don’t like. Isn’t that right, Mr. Whitehead?

I don’t think God intended on us to obey unlawful ordinances. If so, He must be pleased with Hitler huh?

Well as long as you’re being reasonable about it. Because reasonable fire safety standards arejust like genocide.



  1. JoeBuddha says

    More lying for Jesus.

    I’m continually amazed that folx who put so much stock in the Ten Commandments are so ignorant as to what they actually say.

  2. grumpyoldfart says

    Message for Mr Salman:

    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. (Romans 13:1-2)

  3. Preston says

    I have friends who have posted news articles about Salman that make it sound like he was the victim of a special Arizona anti-bible task force. In point of fact, Salman is going to jail because he’s insisting on going to jail. The People worked with him for five years. In the mean time, his neighbors endured no small inconvenience. Imagine being this schmuck’s neighbor.

    He’s mad because he’s not getting the special treatment he feels he deserves. He’s mad because the law says his neighbors have rights too.

    Would it be okay for me to stand on the public right of way outside his house and read Green Eggs and Ham into a megaphone at 2 AM? It’s a great book. I have 1st Amendment protections. How about it?

  4. plutosdad says

    You know most people, when you are having a big party, make sure to invite the neighbors, or do nice things for the neighbors, or compensate neighbors for any intrusion. Now inviting neighbors to the services (not a bible study) may not work, but if he had any sympathy for the aggravation he was causing everyone else, he would have done something about it.

    Heck he could use the tithes to rent a space out once a week. It’s not that difficult. Even when i was a christian I went to some pretty small churches with no buildings, and we didn’t do things like this. It’s just rude to the other homeowners, besides illegal.

    • F says

      Naw, you know his neighborhood is just an evil atheist conclave within the greater atheist state of Arizona. And they will invent and twist laws just to persecute thoughtful Bible studies in the comfort and intimacy of a person’s home.

  5. E.A. Blair says

    This has also been used as a tactic by Christian groups to try to suppress non-Christian groups in the name of religious “freedom”. Back in the 1990s, the Church of Iron Oak, a Wiccan congregation in Florida, had zoning laws invoked against them to prevent their meetings in members’ homes. There’s a review of s number of such cases at this link.

    As usual, it seems like Christians are more than happy to use the law to their advantage when they can oppress others but are the first to cry “foul!” when they can’t run rughshod over others and ram their agenda down everybody’s throats.

    My heart bleeds for Mr. Salman. He’s so persecuted – hung on a cross of his own making.

  6. Denis Robert says

    The “journalist” for this story classified it under “Christian Persecution”, and has written a number of Christianist stories in support of various bigots and WATB Christians complaining about lost privilege. Matthew Hulet’s bio is pretty telling:

    “Matthew Hulet, a devout Christian for two plus years. Attended ITT Technical Institute and obtained his Associates degree in Drafting and Design and a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management. Matthew has seen first hand Christianity and the culture we are in and the effects of it. He is very detailed and in depth in all he does.”

    I mean, he’s from ITT Tech!!! So of course he’s suited for a job as a journalist, no?

    • Len says

      Matthew has seen first hand Christianity and the culture we are in and the effects of it.

      That’s a nicely ambiguous sentence.

      Effects of Christianity or effects of the culture we’re in? Good effects or bad effects?

      Luckily he doesn’t do anything related to writing or some such.

      Oh, wait …

    • sambarge says

      He is very detailed and in depth in all he does.

      In depth, huh? I wonder how deep? Two feet deep? Three feet? How deep does Mr. Hulet go in search of a story? Because, if he’s not literally digging than I’d like to know what “in depth” means in this context, separate from, say, detailed.

      Also, this sentence:

      Matthew has seen first hand Christianity and the culture we are in and the effects of it.

      This sentence makes me hope that either Matthew (1) didn’t write this sentence or (2) that, if he did, he is no longer making his living as a writer/journalist.

  7. smrnda says

    A friend of mine emailed me this (he is actually a Christian) but pointed out that this pastor seems like a grade A jerk.

    Delusional people who believe they are being persecuted when they aren’t can’t believe that the real issue is just that they are breaking a rule that they really should be compelled to follow.

    Christians use zoning issues to prevent other religions from establishing houses of worship – a Wiccan facility near me never went up because of ‘zoning issues’ so the double standard is pretty egregious.

  8. mikespeir says

    Whether this guy is in the right or not, I don’t know, but I do rejoice at every instance of proof that religion is subject to secular law in this country.

  9. frankb says

    I don’t think God intended on us to obey unlawful ordinances. If so, He must be pleased with Hitler huh?

    So, what unlawful ordinances did Hitler obey? Did Berlin have an ordinance to annex the Sudetenland and invade Poland? This particular Godwining doesn’t make sense.

  10. says

    I found a great little studio to work in years ago. I had to move less than a year later because no amount of reason or calling the police was going to stop the ‘strip mall’ church that moved in next to me from drumming and jumping so hard it made my dishes bounce off the counter, (not kidding).
    peter g

  11. says

    I’m reminded of a film I watched during a film appreciation class in High School. It was about a couple who started running around the country doing a church revival thing in big circus tents. One of the criticisms they had to fight against were fire codes, since they crowded the tents so much. Also featured was a person who criticized them for not making people better or doing anything productive, but instead whipping them into a cheap religious frenzy and collecting donations. They got the critic to sputter vaguely by asking him if Jesus was divine, as if it were an armor piercing question.

    The film ended with the husband and several attendees dying in a fire, and the wife saying that she’ll continue the work. My thoughts back then, even as a liberal Christian at the time: “These people are supposed to be the heroes?”

  12. spiffo says

    Man Jailed For Bible Study

    catches way more eyes than

    Man Jailed For Repeatedly Violating Zoning Laws And Ignoring City Warnings For Seven Years

    Apparently the dude had amplifiers and everything so imagine being this guy’s neighbor and getting to listen to fundy dogma in the mornings multiple times a week for nearly a decade. Joy.

  13. says

    Rutherford Institute is a piece of work and their defense of Michael Salman is right on the front page. Of course they claim: “The Rutherford Institute has emerged as one of the nation’s leading advocates of civil liberties and human rights” but I don’t see anything on their site about defending people against the illegal search and seizures Arizona was doing against people with a bit more suntan. It’s amazing how people will wrap themselves up in “freedom” to support oppression since freedom means: a) only for “our” people, b) only for religious people since everyone knows this is an xtian nation, c) only for right-wing people since everyone knows the other side is a moooslem conspiracy.

  14. anteprepro says

    I don’t think God intended on us to obey unlawful ordinances. If so, He must be pleased with Hitler huh?

    On that note: Do you know who else had large assemblies of people listening to his every word, had no consideration for his neighbors, and was willing to force the people who adored him into forfeiting their safety? Anyone else who feigned martyrdom, used God as an excuse for misdeeds, and relied on media propaganda to win public favor by spinning or covering up other misdeeds?

    Have we ever seen Hitler and Salman in the same room? I think at this point we need to confirm that they aren’t the same person. Somebody take a mustache sample!

    • Stacy says

      Do you know who else had large assemblies of people listening to his every word, had no consideration for his neighbors, and was willing to force the people who adored him into forfeiting their safety? Anyone else who feigned martyrdom, used God as an excuse for misdeeds, and relied on media propaganda to win public favor by spinning or covering up other misdeeds?

      Jesus!? :)

      • anteprepro says

        Bzzzt. Close though. Jesus did supposedly care about his “neighbors”. Perhaps I should give you the point anyway, since Jesus’s lack of concern for his followers’ well-being was tremendous, even in comparison to genocidal dictators. That should more than make up for the difference.

  15. Reese M says

    Appearently your all-knowing, all-powerful god was a-okay with Hitler, because he deemed long before anyone was even born that Hitler would plague humanity virtually unchecked from 1933 to 1945. In his perfect wisdom, he timed this to coincide nearly two thousand years after he sacrificed himself to himself for the sins he deemed us to have.

  16. vel says

    God says quite directly (if you believe the bible nonsense) that all laws and all leaders on the earth are put here by his will. To disobey is to be damned. Again, Christians often have no idea what their bible says and if they do, suddenly huge parts of it aren’t “really” meant by their bogeyman.

  17. isilzhaveni says

    What really strikes me is how they completely ignore and trample the rights of their neighbors. Obviously their religious “rights” trump the rights of everyone else. How arrogant of them!

  18. jnorris says

    Mr Salman had no excuse if the City of Phoenix pointed out to him that the school board will rent their building to him on nights and weekends. I know its done in North and South Carolina and I assume in Arizona also.

    I wonder how many to8ilets Mr Salman has in his house? How many toilets should one have available for eighty people?

  19. says

    I have a feeling the pastor’s official line is “they said it was a fire code violation, but we all know what that means” (and his actual objection more along the lines of “don’ wanna”).

    Anyway, fire codes = blasphemy. God will protect His people from the flame. After all, has a church ever burned in the U.S.?

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