Arizona Preacher Facing Jail Time for Holding Home Worship Meetings


A street preacher in Arizona is fighting a jail sentence for holding private worship meetings at his home.

Michael Salman says that he has been battling the City of Phoenix for years after code enforcement officials told him that if he was going to hold worship gatherings on his property, it would be considered an “occupancy” and must be subject to commercial code regulations. Salman hosts a weekly study with his family and friends in a building located in his back yard, which is on approximately an acre and a half of land, with an additional 3.2 acres behind it. He asserts that the meetings are private and not open to the general public.

“The only people who go in that building is my wife and I and our guests,” he said. “People have a right to gather at their home and on their property with their guests. Why can’t we have people as our guests?”

He said that the city responded by stating that religious worship cannot be considered as being private.

Salman originally constructed the building as an accessory to his residence, and was labeled a game room. For as long as the building was being used as a game room, officials had no problem with it being classified as private, simply because it was for recreation and not religious purposes. He stated that two weeks after the family decided to move their worship services out of their home and into the building in their back yard, they were cited for violating the city’s zoning code.

“That type of enforcement is against the law; it’s unconstitutional,” Salman stated in an online video. “You cannot tell people that they can gather for recreation, civic, social, [and] amusement [purposes] and everything, but then if they gather to worship Jesus Christ or they have some form of religious worship in their home, suddenly they’re disobeying the law because their home should be an occupancy.”

“We are not even allowed to have a Bible study in our living room without converting it to a church,” he told Christian News Network.

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The situation began in 2002, when a neighbor complained to officials that Salman and his wife Suzanne were holding religious meetings at their home. Salman said that he made changes to the house to comply with requirements as best as possible, but the city kept changing the code. He then moved his worship services to the accessory building, which he furnished with folding chairs and a pulpit.

Salman explained that his family and friends all park on his property behind a gated area and not in the street. Approximately 10-15 cars drive onto his yard each week.

“You can’t even see the cars,” he said.

When the city continued to press the matter, and would not listen to his contentions that the facility was only for private use, he sought relief through the state court. The court refused to hear the case, remarking that the situation should be handled locally. Salman then attempted to file a federal lawsuit, but District Judge James A. Tielborg dismissed the case, claiming that he could not file yet as the state courts were still handling the matter. Salman then refiled when the state ruling was completed, but his challenge was again dismissed. Tielborg is purportedly an outspoken evangelical Christian.

The case has now been appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as one of Salman’s last chances to obtain an injunction against the City of Phoenix.

He says that the city has continued to cite his property as a “safety concern” because of the number of friends and family that gather, which reportedly are between 40-50 people.

“We’ve [asked] the City of Phoenix, ‘How many people can we have?’ and their reply is if you have more than two people, you’re breaking the law,” Salman explained.

The city further advised that Salman must facilitate handicapped parking at his home, along with a handicapped bathroom, although none of this family and friends are handicapped.

“Why are we being forced as Americans, as citizens of the United States of America, to adhere to commercial code?” he asked. “Why is our religious worship being treated differently than everyone else’s private worship or private gatherings? People celebrate Super Bowls and all kinds of stuff in their homes and they’re not being prosecuted like we are.”

“When I had my birthday party here, which was the same people, I was not [cited for a violation],” Salman explained. “The only days I’m being violated are Sundays.”

In 2010, the city officially pressed criminal charges against Salman. Due to exhaustion of all legal remedies, he was forced to self-surrender to the Maricopa County Jail on June 17th, 2012, which was to be followed by probation.

Salman and his wife recorded a video just before he reported to jail to explain the situation and to express the couple’s frustration with Phoenix officials.

“I’m going to have to report to jail tonight….to go serve 60 days in jail because I worship on my property at my home with my family and friends as a private use. And that’s wrong,” he said. “To the City of Phoenix, I’m a criminal, and I deserve to go to jail.”

However, after arriving at the Maricopa County Jail, because of a technicality in that computers at the facility were not recognizing the code that he had purportedly violated, he was released three hours later.

This past Thursday, City Judge Sally Gaines rescheduled Salman’s sentence for July 9th. Assistant City Prosecutor John Tutelman, who characterized Salman as a “rebel,” also 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. Unless a federal court intervenes, Salman will be forced to serve time in jail beginning next month. His probation revocation hearing is set for late July.

An explanatory video was uploaded following his return from court.

Salman is a father of six and also operates Mighty Mike’s Burgers, as well as a credit card processing company. He says that the criminal proceedings have taken a toll on him and his family.

“It’s been very stressful, especially for my [children] and my wife,” he told Christian News Network. “I see her getting tore up from the inside.”

Nonetheless, Salman states that he is going to continue to fight.

“I’m not going to stop,” he explained. “I have a right to gather on my property just like everyone else does.”

“We ask our brothers and sisters in the Lord to just pray for us,” Salman added. “The world is so vocal. We have one neighbor that is so vocal against us. He doesn’t like Christians. We just need Christians on the other side.”

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  • David DeMorrow

    So the constitution prepared and approved by our founding fathers is no longer valid? In too many areas.
    Perhaps we need a new political party, The Party of the Constitution!!

  • Roger Curtis

    Why don’t you contact Jay Secalow, I think that’s the right spelling. His organization takes on legal problems against Christian groups.

  • Michael Whitehead

    It’s getting the same here in England. Praying for Michael and his family. The Lords return is near and persecution will get stronger. Jesus said,’If they persecute Me they will persecute you, be of good cheer I have overcome the world. The Church needs to wake up and support those who are being persecuted in this way. It seems ‘freedom of speech is ok unless you speak about the Lord Jesus Christ. Its the devil’s last chance to keep blind the eyes of the unbelievers. Look up our redemption draws near. Be encouraged Michael and family.

  • http://www.MemorableMelodies.com Marilyn

    It is just this type of government behavior that prompted me to recently begin writing songs to warn Americans of politicians and bureaucrats who neither knew nor cared about our Constitution or our God-given freedoms. I just contacted the numbers listed in this article, and everyone reading this should do likewise! You might also be interested in checking out my “liberty songs” at http://www.MemorableMelodies.com (Click at the top on VIDEOS.)

  • Brooke

    This is insane and can’t be legal. They told him he’s breaking the law if he has more than two people at his house? Then why aren’t they out there busting every super bowl party and birthday party in town? I’m an atheist and even I am outraged by this. This is how it starts. It’s his property, it’s none of their business! He needs to call the ACLU. There is clearly an element of civil rights violation and religious discrimination going on here.

  • Michael

    It is unbelievable that a thing of this nature could be happening in the United States of America: a greatest nation on earth noted for freedom, tolerance and liberty. What lesson will American leaders teach the nations and people of the world.
    For the brethren, this points to the fact that we are having Satanic agents in political offices and as such,they are not representing the people but Satan. Let all the Christians all over the world (irrespective of denominations) rise up and intercede for Michael and his famliy.

  • James Sparks

    My Lord! What is happening in our country. It appears that there is a great effort to stamp out any kind of Christian meeting, yet even our President agreed to meet with thousands of Muslims in Washington, and reportedly prayed with them. The Constitution of the United States expressly guarantees the freedom of religion, not freedom “From” religion…but that seems to be exactly what Prosecutor, John Tutelman is trying to do in Phonex, AZ.

  • Doug Foster

    We need to pray for their neighbor and ask God to send the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to the neighbor as the God who loves him, and died for him, and forgave his sins. That he might have eternal life,

  • Patty Griese

    God has placed a calling in Michael Salman’s heart to minister to those who are faithful to hear the word of God. I pray that the right eyes and ears can assist Michael to continue his dedication to OUR LORD JESUS! AMEN!!!!!!