A Phoenix pastor who was fined over $12,000 and sentenced to 60 days in jail after he refused to close down a Bible study at his home began his incarceration July 9. “I have spent time with my family this morning praying, crying, and saying our goodbye,” the Rev. Michael Salman (pictured with wife, Suzanne) wrote on his Facebook page the morning he went to jail. “My heart is broken, but glory to God. Our God will take care of us and my family. Please pray for us! Until God opens the prison’s door, I will be with you all in prayer and spirit.”
Salman’s conflict with the city of Phoenix began in 2008 when he was ordered to comply with code requirements for a church after his neighbors began complaining about a weekly Bible study he held on his property. According to the Phoenix New Times, up to 50 people would gather at a gazebo in Salman’s backyard, which prompted the city to call the gathering a church and cite him for several zoning and fire-code violations, ultimately slapping him with the fine and jail time. Additionally, he was told he could have not more than a dozen people on his property at one time.
Salman appealed the penalties to a U.S. district court, but in June a federal judge dismissed the case, ruling that a lower federal court had already heard and dismissed his complaint because he had failed to first exhaust his state-level legal options.
Salman, who owns a local burger restaurant but who is also an ordained minister, insisted that his Bible studies are private gatherings and are not open to the public. He told the Phoenix New Times that while his ministry is called Harvest Christian Fellowship, the name was required in order for him to provide outreach to inmates at local jails, and he is not running a church.
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