The Myth of the Man Arrested for Bible Study

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.

35 comments on this post.
  1. Chiroptera:

    Kind of reminds me of the case where a church was allegedly being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

  2. doodlespook:

    My fundamentalist family has a whole suite of Christian persecution myths they trot out from time to time. I guess they want to consider themselves persecuted “for His name’s sake”.

    It’s interesting (but not surprising) that they include a bone-deep distrust / hatred for the ACLU as the author of at least some of the “oppression”. It doesn’t matter how many articles I send them about that organization defending the Constitutional rights of Christians to worship / assemble – they are convinced of the rightness of their position. Another mundane example of how faith prevents reason from taking hold. Sad.

  3. lofgren:

    But he refuses to comply with the same entirely reasonable regulations that every other church in the city complies with

    So you’re saying that every church in the city is being oppressed?

    I mean, they at least have fewer restrictions than the mosques, right?

    What? The mosques follow the same regulations? How much more anti-Christian can this country get?

  4. Bronze Dog:

    Big feeling of deja vu today. Feels weird to have already read the general stories (including the relevant quotes) before seeing you post them.

    Commented on this one elsewhere. In a high school film appreciation class, I watched an old movie about a married couple who started going around the country holding some church revival thing in big circus tents. They faced opposition from fire marshals as they overcrowded the tents. (Also, they faced critics who complained they weren’t doing anything really helpful, just handing out cheap religious thrills.) In the end, the husband died in a fire with a lot of attendees and the wife vowed to carry on the work. My final thoughts, even as a liberal Christian back then: “These people are supposed to be the heroes?”

    I’m okay with people gathering for religious events, but please do so in a way that doesn’t endanger lives, and don’t lie about the intentions of people who express safety concerns.

  5. eric:

    So, he’s collecting donations and has told the government he’s a tax-exempt religious organization, but doesn’t want to spend any of that on fire-safe doors and an alarm/sprinkler system appropriate for the size of the building.

    His own personal expenses are more important than the welfare of his parishoners and neighbors, I guess. Quelle surprise.

  6. d cwilson:

    doodlespook @2 said:

    It doesn’t matter how many articles I send them about that organization defending the Constitutional rights of Christians to worship / assemble – they are convinced of the rightness of their position.

    A few years ago, I sparred with a guy on the slate.com Fray (back when they still had the Fray) who insisted that the ACLU was all about persecuting Christians while promoting Islam. He even provided a link of a list of cases that he claimed proved his point. I pointed out several insistances from his own link that showed the ACLU defending the rights of Christians to practice their religion. He refused to admit that his own source proved him wrong.

  7. raven:

    Routine.

    Xians have a lot of myths that they circulate among themselves.

    A staple is missing children, abducted by satanists and used in their horrific rituals.

    The numbers vary, but Hagee has claimed 1 million children are sacrificed by satanists every Halloween.

    They once badgered the FBI into investigating. The FBI did so and did not find…one single case. Which made no difference, to this day those myths still circulate.

    Carl Sagan said it long ago. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. These people just live in the demon haunted darkness and like it.

  8. abear:

    raven; So the FBI is in on it too?

  9. Trebuchet:

    What’s oddly hilarious about this case is that he’s being held in wingnut sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail! I wonder if they’ve issued him pink underwear?

  10. DaveL:

    A staple is missing children, abducted by satanists and used in their horrific rituals.

    The numbers vary, but Hagee has claimed 1 million children are sacrificed by satanists every Halloween.

    In the U.S. alone or worldwide?

  11. raven:

    raven; So the FBI is in on it too?

    Of course. The FBI works for the Trilateral Commission, Illuminati, Masons, Moslem Brotherhood, and the Space Reptiles.

    1 million children are sacrificed by satanists every Halloween.

    In the U.S. alone or worldwide?

    You would have to ask Hagee. I believe that is just the USA. You don’t seriously think Hagee and his band of sheep care about people who don’t live in the USA. They aren’t Real Americans after all.

  12. John Pieret:

    In 1994, Salman recorded a “Notice of Revocation of Power of Attorney” with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in which he declared himself a “de jure freeborn unenfranchised (sic) citizen of God’s Kingdom … and not a de facto National Citizen of the United States under the 14th Amendment, nor a common law citizen operating under a franchise or involved in a revenue taxable activity, and not a ward of the United States Congress, who has taxable citizenship through Social Security, or government employee or any other type of governmental franchise.”
    It stated, “Ambassador Michael Hashem Salman has always been a natural freeborn individual and has never been a citizen of the United States of America, or any state therein, and is foreign to the governments thereof.”
    Salman also recorded a “Vow of Poverty” in which he claimed any remuneration received when performing work, business or services among the general public is not his personal income, but is actually the church’s income and merely received by Salman for the church as an agent.

    http://www.sonorannews.com/archives/2012/120718/frontpage-religious.html

    Maybe he should give Kent Hovind a call to see how well that worked out for him.

  13. briandavis:

    So, he’s collecting donations and has told the government he’s a tax-exempt religious organization, but doesn’t want to spend any of that on fire-safe doors and an alarm/sprinkler system appropriate for the size of the building.

    Fire sprinklers show a lack of faith.

  14. raven:

    It stated, “Ambassador Michael Hashem Salman has always been a natural freeborn individual and has never been a citizen of the United States of America, or any state therein, and is foreign to the governments thereof.”</blockquote

    If he just renounced his US citizenship, why don't they deport him as an undesirable and illegal alien?

    Salman also recorded a “Vow of Poverty” in which he claimed any remuneration received when performing work, business or services among the general public is not his personal income, but is actually the church’s income and merely received by Salman for the church as an agent.

    The IRS loves these guys. More than a few fundie ministers refuse to pay income taxes because…well just because they are god’s special snowflakes.

    They end up in court. If they really mickey mouse around, like Kent Hovind did, they end up in prison with felony convictions.

  15. footface:

    Chairs “arranged in a pew fashion”? Like, in rows, and not piled in a big heap?

  16. reverendrodney:

    briandavissays @ 13″
    “Fire sprinklers show a lack of faith.”

    Lightning rods too. Yet churches lost faith, oops, I mean became practical. Now you find at least one on every steeple.

  17. Doug Little:

    The numbers vary, but Hagee has claimed 1 million children are sacrificed by satanists every Halloween.

    Population control? Who knew that satanists have the best interests of the human race in mind.

    How many kids per satanist is that?

  18. Doug Little:

    footface @15,

    Thanks for the laugh!

  19. Doug Little:

    Lightning rods too. Yet churches lost faith, oops, I mean became practical. Now you find at least one on every steeple.

    Well the church that erected Touchdown Jesus didn’t have a lightning rod and see what happened. Somehow I think they are praying to the wrong god if they require lightning rods, now what’s that guy’s name that has a hammer and can throw lightning bolts?

  20. Larry:

    David @ 10

    In the U.S. alone or worldwide?

    A better question would be on Earth or on Hagee’s home planet.

  21. Chiroptera:

    footface, #15: Chairs “arranged in a pew fashion”? Like, in rows, and not piled in a big heap?

    Heh.

    I suspect that the point was that the chairs were in rows facing the podium at the end of the room like in a large church, as opposed to being arranged in smaller circles where the participants could easily interact with one another, which is what comes to my mind when I think of “Bible study.”

  22. caseloweraz:

    “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?”

    For me, it’s Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination with its depiction of “Cellar Christians.” That, of course, is fiction. But speaking of fiction…

  23. billydee:

    Hagee could have said it was one million children from his own congregation were killed and the assholes who follow him would have believed him.
    These are the same people who believe that John Freshwater was fired just for having a bible on his classroom desk and who believe all of the bullshit David Barton puts out.

  24. garnetstar:

    This guy’s *house* has a room that holds 80 people?

    He seems to be headed straight down Kent Hovind Way….

  25. John Hinkle:

    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!

    ZOMG! Men in black, with automatic weapons and masks and helmets and jack boots (just polished) and tear gas used shoulder mounted missile launchers to destroy the front door of this poor Christian’s home and … and … where was I?

    Oh yeah. Send money to this address.

  26. lofgren:

    “de jure freeborn unenfranchised (sic) citizen of God’s Kingdom … and not a de facto National Citizen of the United States under the 14th Amendment, nor a common law citizen operating under a franchise

    Fuck, one of those? Lucky they caught him before his “bible study group” became a “compound.”

  27. criticaldragon1177:

    Ed Brayton

    Does Donna Sundblad have a persecution complex or is she just out to portray the American government as being out to persecute Christians? I mean, if she did just a bit more research, she’d see that no one was arrested for simply holding a Bible study.

  28. naturalcynic:

    A staple is missing children, abducted by satanists and used in their horrific rituals.

    The numbers vary, but Hagee has claimed 1 million children are sacrificed by satanists every Halloween.

    An obvious case of plagiarism of some medieval tract where satanists were substituted for Jews.

  29. matty1:

    On the ‘citizen’ thing, ignoring the more insane aspects I have two questions.

    -Wouldn’t a non citizen foreign resident would still be liable for taxes on any money they make in a jurisdiction?

    -Can you renounce US citzenship while living in the US? I can see it being done as part of applying for citizenship elsewhere but not as a way to set up your own Republic of Petoria.

  30. podkayne:

    read this elsewhere
    What I like to call “armchair” persecution.

    I theorise that since the Bible speaks about how the true believers will find themselves being persecuted, and that such persecution is a sign you’re on the right path, it pulls at the conscience of many overweight, under exercised middle class westerners that their lives are somewhat lacking in persecution, and so to cover this seeming gap in their spiritual lives, they’ll desperately take anything remotely misconstruable as persecution and wrap it around themselves like a big reasuring blanket.

    …”unfounded internet rumour that one of the Columbine murderers asked someone if they were a Christian before he killed her? HE WAS PERSECUTING CHRISTIANS! Thank goodness, Christians are being persecuted, I am a Christian, therefore I am being persecuted, QED. I’m so glad I can sleep soundly in my warm queen size bed after eating twice my daily recomended caloric requirement and not feel guilty about the world’s poor or starving. What with me being PERSECUTED and all, I must be on the right track. I can’t wait for the “war on Christmas” to start up to make me feel even more persecuted and thereby justify my blatant crass consumerism!” http://www.christianforums.com/t7443164-3/#post54230779

  31. patrickashton:

    Persecution is practically the bedrock of Christian theology. Just read the Bible. If they aren’t being persecuted for something, then they aren’t True Christians™.

  32. Die Anyway:

    Hmmmph. I say pack em in. No rules, no regulations. And hope that candles play a big part in their ceremonies. What the heck, God will protect them. And if he doesn’t, it was all part of His plan anyway. You can’t fight it, y’know. If God wants to call you home, you’re going.

    Now, where did I put my sypmathy? Damn. I know I had some when I came in here. Shit, where did it go? It’s hell getting old. You misplace things and never find them again. I guess the last of my sympathy is gone now.

  33. Ross Slane:

    I’m a conservative Christian but I try not to jump on the bandwagons and drink the hype of Fox News or talk shows. This is just another event that makes me wish that people on both sides would be more concerned with checking facts and finding truth than trying to “prove” their political standpoints or biases.

    I addressed this issue on my website in hopes that my largely conservative readership will be challenged to think rather than react. You can see it at http://rossslane.com/2013/10/02/man-arrested-for-a-bible-study-in-his-home-in-arizona

  34. Michael Heath:

    Ross Slane writes:

    This is just another event that makes me wish that people on both sides would be more concerned with checking facts and finding truth than trying to “prove” their political standpoints or biases.

    Re what I bold above; please define the side other than Harvest Christian Church. Who are they? In addition, what lies and attempts to misinform did this supposed group demonstrate in order to promote their political positions and biases? What are those biases you refer to this by this supposed other side?

    Your post here is equivalent to people confronted with criticisms of their political party; criticisms they’re impotent to defend. So they react by claiming we should throw all the bums out, as if their political opponents are equally culpable to their own tribe, yet where they fail to present even a scintilla of evidence that’s true.

  35. Christians being Persecuted in North America? - Page 2 - Christian Forums:

    […] What I like to call “armchair” persecution. I theorise that since the Bible speaks about how the true believers will find themselves being persecuted, and that such persecution is a sign you’re on the right path, it pulls at the conscience of many overweight, under exercised middle class westerners that their lives are somewhat lacking in persecution, and so to cover this seeming gap in their spiritual lives, they’ll desperately take anything remotely misconstruable as persecution and wrap it around themselves like a big reasuring blanket. …”unfounded internet rumour that one of the Columbine murderers asked someone if they were a Christian before he killed her? HE WAS PERSECUTING CHRISTIANS! Thank goodness, Christians are being persecuted, I am a Christian, therefore I am being persecuted, QED. I’m so glad I can sleep soundly in my warm queen size bed after eating twice my daily recomended caloric requirement and not feel guilty about the world’s poor or starving. What with me being PERSECUTED and all, I must be on the right track. I can’t wait for the “war on Christmas” to start up to make me feel even more persecuted and thereby justify my blatant crass consumerism!” The Myth of the Man Arrested for Bible Study » Dispatches from the Culture Wars […]

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