Cities have zoning restrictions that limit how a piece of property may be used. Not every piece of property can be used for an organized religious gathering that would effectively make the property a house of worship. And so every now and then you read about a Bible study or small religious gatherings being shut down because of a non-comforming land use.
The story of Michael Salman is a little different. He didn’t just get ticketed for holding church services in his home. His hosting a Bible study landed the Arizona pastor in jail.
Like the Apostle Paul some 2,000 years ago, Salman has devoted his time in custody to sharing his faith other inmates. As he faced the final 30 days, his church prayed for a miracle to shake open the prison doors — as in the Book of Acts’ Bible story of the Philippian jailer. However, Salman’s jailer is already a Christian – famed Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is staying out of the controversy that landed Salman behind bars.
Officials say he violated a previous agreement by continuing to hold religious services in violation of zoning and building codes – hosting as many as 80 visitors at his 4-acre property in a 2,000-square-foot “game room” that has a pulpit and pews and for which he has enjoyed a church exemption from property taxes.
Phoenix zoning officials say the case has nothing at all to do with Salman’s faith, but everything to do with zoning ordinances, occupancy permits and insufficient handicapped parking spaces.