There has been a story going around for a couple days now about how a man in Phoenix, AZ has been fined and sentenced to jail because he holds Bible studies in his home. Today I was given this link to an article at “The Blaze.”
Why is Michael Salman being punished? Apparently because he has amassed 67 building code violations. What type of violations could one commit by holding Bible studies?
To learn more about what was going on, I went to a couple other links, the first one being included in the previous article, and the other to Fox News.
I read all the information and listened to Salman and his wife on the video. And here is what I discovered:
1. Salman has been having his “Bible study” three days a week, which was causing traffic congestion according to neighbors (Salman said “one” neighbor).
2. Salman states that he secured permits for constructing a “game room” and then after it passed inspection for that use, he converted the structure as a church building, (whether or not he wants to call it such). According to Fox News, “His building certainly resembles a church. It has chairs for as many as 40 people. There is a pulpit. There’s a sign out front – along with a cross.”
3. Fox News reported on statements by chief assistant city prosecutor Vicki Hill. “She said he was given a permit to convert a garage into a game room. ‘Any other occupancy or use – business, commercial, assembly, church, etc, is expressly prohibited pursuant to the city of Phoenix building code and ordinances,’ she told Fox News Radio.” Hill is also cited as saying: “He built a structure that he said wasn’t a church — that is in fact — a church. It’s a church.” Hill stated that Salman had “mischaracterized the facts” of the permit.
4. According to the Fox News article, the whole issue has been the same from the beginning, even before Salman built his structure: “It came down to zoning and proper permitting. Any time you are holding a gathering of people continuously as he does — we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire — and that’s really all this comes down to.”
5. Also according to the Fox News article, Salman “was charged with not having emergency exit signs over the doors. He was charged with not having handicap parking spaces and not having handicap ramps.”
I came across this article which shows a photo of the front of Salman’s house, with the large cross and sign. The article also provides this bit of information:
“A January 4, 2010, ruling made it clear that the Salmans are not prohibited from running a church or hosting worship services on their property, but if they do so, they must be in compliance with fire and zoning codes.”
So here is the issue as I see it:
Salman is NOT being persecuted for holding Bible studies. He is being charged with violations of building and zoning codes He lied about what he was building to secure permits (which wouldn’t require the extra expense of exit signs and handicap parking availability). He claims his building is not a church building, yet from all appearances it can’t be differentiated from any other church (perhaps not as fancy) in that it has a cross and sign identifying its location, chairs for up to 40 people, and a pulpit. He also calls himself a pastor.
Although Salman claims he is being prevented from holding his meetings, the January 2010 ruling makes it clear this is not the case because all he has to do is comply with the rules. If Salman had complied with the building and zoning codes for his 3-times-per-week gatherings, he would not be in jail or suffer the fines and court costs.
The Scripture is quite clear that we are to obey the laws of the land, whether we like them or not.
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the ⌊authorities⌋ are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks.
Romans 13:1-7 (HCSB)
Submit to every human institution because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people. As God’s slaves, ⌊live⌋ as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.