The Bible Vs. The Building Code: Which Is More Important?

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City officials in Phoenix arrived at the conclusion that Michael Salman was putting people’s lives in jeopardy by conducting a Bible study at his home. He was found guilty of 67 building code violations and sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years of probation. Plus, he was hit with a $12,180 fine.

It all started in 2007 when neighbors complained about the increase in traffic on the street. Salman, a restaurant owner and pastor, began having Bible studies in his home in 2005. After the neighbors’ complaint, Salman was harangued by local authorities on more than one occasion. According to Salman, city officials told him he would need a permit in order to have non-family members into his home for a spiritual purpose.

So in 2009, Salman constructed a building on their 4.6 acre lot and applied for all the permits he thought he would need. “At that point we took our Bible study from our living room — and we moved it into that building,” he recalled. “We started worshipping in that building every weekend.”

But according to Vicki Hill, the chief assistant city prosecutor, Salman fudged the facts. Hill claims that Salman was given a permit to convert his garage into a game room. Therefore, in Hill’s words, any other use for the building would be “expressly prohibited.”

A dozen police along with city inspectors raided Salman’s home on June 11, 2009. Police forced the couple and their five young girls to stay in the living room while the building used to seat 40 Bible students was searched. After thoroughly checking the area, inspectors cited 67 code violations.

“Imagine everything that a public building would have or a commercial building would have,” Salman remembered. “Anything we didn’t have was a violation.”

This included not having handicap parking, handicap ramps and exit signs over the doors.

Hill claims that Salman was operating a church; therefore, he must abide by building codes or face the consequences. But the part-time pastor sees it as an attack on his personal liberty.

“At what point does the government have the right to state that you cannot have family and friends over at your home three times a week? People have a right to gather on their property as long as parking is available, as long as they aren’t parking in the street, as long as they aren’t violating noise ordinances.”

So far, the courts have sided with Hill.

Salman has tried to point out the inconsistencies in the court’s logic.

“If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted. But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes — that is when you have discrimination.”

Because Salman made an effort to abide by the law, he is being punished. Such is the situation we find ourselves in. Those who have no respect for laws and ordinances fly under the radar, while those who make an attempt to abide by them provide the totalitarian state with another name to put on file.

Bryan Nash

Staff writer Bryan Nash has devoted much of his life to searching for the truth behind the lies that the masses never question. He is currently pursuing a Master's of Divinity and is the author of The Messiah's Misfits, Things Unseen and The Backpack Guide to Surviving the University. He has also been a regular contributor to the magazine Biblical Insights.