We've told you before about government regulations hampering home Bible studies, but this story is even more pervasive, perplexing and complicated than the others. Michael Salman, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., has been sentenced to a startling 60 days in jail, given a $12,180 fine and granted three years probation for refusing to stop hosting Bible studies at his home. Why, you ask? He's apparently in violation of the city's building code laws.
City officials claim that he's running an operation that is reminiscent of a home church -- but without the required permits. And according to Fox's Todd Starnes, Phoenix court documents show that he violated 67 codes. Unless the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals grants an emergency injunction, he will be jailed as early as next week.
Naturally, Salman believes the court's findings amount to a crackdown on faith and religion. The city maintains that the penalties are legitimate based on the zoning laws he and his family have violated. However, Starnes was apparently unable to reach the Phoenix prosecutor's office, the mayor's office or code enforcement to obtain further comment.
"They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use. They’re attacking what I, as a Christian, do in the privacy of my home," he said in an interview with Starnes. "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."
Starnes goes on to provide an overview that recaps how the dispute first started between Salman and the city:
The long-running feud between Salman and the City of Phoenix culminated in the summer of 2009 when nearly a dozen police along with city inspectors raided their home. Armed with a search warrant, police confined the Salman family to the living room as they combed the property looking for violations.
Salman is the owner of Mighty Mike’s Burgers — and he is also an ordained pastor. He and his wife have been hosting Bible studies on their 4.6-acre property since 2005. The gatherings were originally attended by as many as 15 people.
In 2007, they received a letter from the city informing them that the Bible studies were not permitted in their living room because it was in violation of the construction code.
A few months later, members of the Phoenix Fire Dept. broke up the family’s Good Friday fellowship. As many as 20 people were in their backyard eating a meal when firefighters threatened to call the police – unless their guests left the premises.
Watch Salman and his wife discuss their legal battle, below:
And this was only the beginning. In 2008, the fire department came back again, and Salman ordered officials off of his property. The town then decided to ignore him -- that is until he and his family built a structure in their backyard. The family, having secured the proper building permits, then moved the Bible studies to this new building.
It was then that the real drama unfolded. Officials came in and found 67 code violations. From a failure to post exit signs to a lack of handicap signs, Phoenix officials left no stone unturned. Now, the Christian Bible-study leader could spend some time behind bars -- unless federal judges intervene.
Read more about his struggle on Fox News Radio.