When I lived back in Arizona, we often had forty or more family and friends over for holidays. I knew of others that had even larger families that gathered every week or so someone’s house. With the large gatherings, no one ever complained nor were any of us told that we had too many at the house.
However, if you open a Bible and start studying it with a large group, suddenly you are in violation of half a dozen codes and could face jail time and fines.
Such is the case of Phoenix homeowner Michael Salman, who in 2008 was cited by the City of Phoenix for his backyard Bible studies after some neighbors complained. Hosting up to fifty people in his backyard to study the Word of God turned out to be a violation of Phoenix’s zoning, building, fire and safety codes.
When authorities showed up, they informed Salman that if he was conducting Bible studies with more than twelve people that it constituted being a church and that he had to adhere to all of the zoning, licensing and permitting that accompanies running a church. Salman said he wasn’t a church but just people getting together to exercise their rights to free speech and freedom of religion. City authorities disagreed and cited Salman.
The lower courts found Salman guilty of all of the violations that Phoenix city officials had charged him with. Salman was summarily sentenced to jail for sixty days, three years’ probation and a fine of $12,000. The court additionally told Salman that he was not allowed to have more than twelve people in his home. It didn’t specify whether the twelve people only applied to the Bible studies or any gathering, which would have made it impossible to host a family gathering at his house.
Salman appealed his case to a federal district court who just dismissed his case altogether, thus upholding the jail, probation and fine.
There is a big difference between a church service and a Bible study, but evidently Phoenix city officials do not have the experience attending either to know the difference. Perhaps if they started attending church on Sunday’s and then visited Salman’s Bible study they might see the differences between the two.
Salman’s situation is another example of how society is becoming less and less tolerant of Christians who practice their faith and it makes we wonder if the same would have happened had they been studying the Quran instead of the Bible?