With the arrest of Pastor Michael Salman, the city of Phoenix has declared that people aren’t allowed to hold private Bible studies on their own property. Salman was sentenced to 60 days in jail, three years’ probation and assessed a $12,180 fine.
Suzanne Salman, Michael’s wife, said that the city told them he was arrested because their private house was essentially a church. They say his Bible studies are “reminiscent of a home church” and private homes are not zoned for churches.
The problem began in 2005, when Michael Salman and his wife began hosting gatherings of about 15 or 20 people where they share food, fellowship and discuss the Bible. But, such gatherings on private property apparently are against the law in Phoenix, Arizona.
In one incident, a dozen armed police officers raided the Salman home and “evidence” of their “crimes” was gathered. Michael Salman was found guilty of 67 code violations, and now he is being taken from his family and imprisoned for two months.
When Salman was given probation, the assistant city prosecutor asked the court to “revoke his probation and convert it into a 2 1/2 year jail sentence since he continues to hold worship gatherings on his property despite court orders.” This kind of case has the potential to have a huge a profound effect on home gatherings of all kinds all over the United States.
The Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead says the family is being discriminated against because of their faith. He says, “The key is – the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion…the right to assemble and talk to each other wherever you want to be – in public or in your home. The thing that I think is so shocking is that you might expect this in Iran or [elsewhere] around the world…but happening in the United States, this is so shocking it’s beyond belief.”
The number of “house churches” in the United States has mushroomed over the twenty years as a growing number of Americans reject the big, institutional churches for one reason or another. And many larger churches have expanded their reach by encouraging members to host Bible studies in their homes.
Now we are seeing a backlash against the home church movement. Does this mean more cities will look more like China in their crackdown on home bible studies? Sadly, there are already seen quite a few examples of this. A Christian couple from Orange County, Calif., was fined earlier this month for holding Bible studies and for what city officials called “a regular gathering of more than three people” in their homes. They have now been told they face a $500 fine if they continue to hold their home Bible study gatherings.
Michael Salman’s home is located on over 4 acres with another 3.5 acres vacant behind his property. Even so, unnamed neighbors “anonymously” complained about the 20-25 people who gathered on private property once a week. It would be interesting to know how many graduation parties, Super Bowl bashes, and other activities were attended in other homes in the same area.