Michael Salman’s DIY Martyrdom
Here’s a familiar lament in 2012: the religiously-driven martyrdom. It is the story of a good upstanding Christian man who, after all, only wants to hold Bible study meetings at home and is arrested when he does so. As Right Wing Watch puts it, “Over the last few weeks, Arizona pastor Michael Salman has become a Religious Right cause célèbre and the current poster boy for religious persecution.” The DIY martyrdom industry is in high gear.
Charisma News claims Salman “was hosting a small Bible study in his home.” You can easily imagine the horror such headlines elicit. World Net Daily has helped shape this modern martyr’s tale with an article titled “Bible-study leader to remain in jail.”
Here’s what Fox News had to say about the case back on July 11, two days after Christian Post announced that “Michael Salman, the pastor from Phoenix who was fined and sentenced to jail for holding Bible studies in his home, started his 60-day jail sentence at 10 a.m. today.”
“They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,” Salman told Fox News Radio last week. “They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home.” Let’s face it: nothing sells to a right-wing audience like martyrdom.
Of course, the AFA’s Bryan Fischer, never one to let facts get in the way of hysteria, got into the act as well:
Egads! Sounds like the typical nightmare tale out of the developing world, where Christians, gosh-darn it, just aren’t respected for engaging in a little helpful cultural genocide. But this is happening here folks. This is something that should worry you!
Here’s WND’s pitch, which sounds just like the rest of the martyrdom hysteria you’ve already seen:
A Phoenix, Ariz., Christian who has held Bible studies in his house for years, often in the face of city threats not to do so, will remain in jail for having those studies, after the state Supreme Court today refused to intervene.
Michael Salman is serving a 60-day jail sentence and was ordered to be fined some $12,000 for using his private residential property to hold a weekly Bible study.
Now as almost any Christian or former Christian (moi) can tell you, folks don’t go to jail for holding Bible studies in their homes. Been to a few myself as have many people I know. Heck, how do you think we Heathens get by in this day and age largely without temples of our own? You meet at a friend’s house or apartment or gather on the deck or in the backyard.
Are Building Code Violators Religious Martyrs?
So right off, you know there is something more to this tale, and WND tries to brush it off without getting into it too much:
The city said his offenses involved city building codes, but his defenders have pointed out that those codes are for commercial properties, and the city does not apply them to football parties, social gatherings and other events that are held in homes.
There you have it: Salman isn’t going to jail for holding Bible study meetings in his home; Salman isn’t being persecuted because he’s a Christian. Salman is going to jail because he is violating city building codes.
You see, Michael Salman isn’t holding Bible studies “in his home” like you’re being told. No. Salman built a church in his back yard.
As Matthew Hendley wrote in the Phoenix New Times Blogs, “Salman told the City of Phoenix twice that he wasn’t building a church in his backyard, then went ahead and built a church that was found responsible for 96 civil code violations, most of them related to how much of a fire hazard the building was.”
If you care for facts (which WND does not) you can go to the City of Phoenix’s Fact Sheet Regarding the Michael Salman Case (which evidently WND did not). WND posted their article on July 23. This fact sheet is dated July 12. There is no reason on Earth WND could not have availed themselves of these facts.
The Michael Salman court case is about building safety. Building and safety codes are in-place to protect the safety and welfare of all of our residents. Here, check out the facts of this terrible persecution for yourself.
Some of the relevant facts in this case include:
- A house of worship is allowed in any zoning district in the City of Phoenix
- The case is about the building that is used for regular assembly does not meet construction and fire code requirements for assembly
- All houses of worship in the City of Phoenix must conform to the same codes
The Rutherford Institute, which has a reputation “as a more conservative American Civil Liberties Union” says they “are undeterred and will continue their legal efforts to challenge Michael Salman’s detention in Tents City Jail in Maricopa County as a violation of his First Amendment rights to religious freedom and assembly.” .
It turns out though – and again you won’t find this mentioned by WND – that Salman wasn’t holding your usual, casual gathering of a half dozen to a dozen friends to study the Bible together in his livingroom or around the dining room table, whatever Charisma News may claim. According to the City of Phoenix’s fact sheet, Salman “had regular gatherings of up to 80 people” (WND claims 40):
“He held services twice a week and collected a tithe at the services. The building that he held services in had a dais and chairs were aligned in a pew formation. He held himself out as a being a church through the media (Harvest Christian Church) and claimed a church status for tax exemption purposes on his property.”
Now that’s a little unusual, isn’t it? Just a little? I never saw a collection plate passed around at a Bible study! Nor did we sit in chairs arranged in “pew formation.” We gathered on chairs, couches and on the floor. So no small gatherings, and when you get right down to it, he wasn’t holding them in his home either. Shame on you, Charisma News and all you other lying conservatives. This guy isn’t a religious martyr: he’s a building code violator!
Basically, this guy builds a 2,000-square foot church on his property, even calls it a church (after trying to get it called a “game room”) and then claims he’s being religiously persecuted when he’s told he’s subject to building codes and claims he was just holding “bible study” in his home? He was holding church services as an ordained minister.
Leave it to WND to help create a religious martyr out of a building code violator.
Building codes exist for a reason: safety, to keep buildings from collapsing and to keep those inside from being burned to death. Apparently, what Mr. Salman and his defenders are claiming is that they have a right to subject people to possible death because his religious beliefs give him the right to ignore building codes.
But rather than talk about Salman’s misdeeds, Fox News Insider doubled down on the lies and celebrated him as a martyr on August 6, revealing that “A Phoenix pastor who was sentenced to 60 days in jail for holding a Bible study group in his home continues to fight for his faith, and is holding a Bible study group behind bars.”
Without indulging in lies and flights of fantasy, the official fact sheet tells the rest of the tale:
On August 30, 2010, Mr. Salman was found guilty of 67 Class 1 Misdemeanors. The Court stated, “Everyone is entitled under the United States Constitution to worship as they please. But there is a reason for these codes and that is for public safety. And that, I believe, is all that the State is asking is that the Code violations be rectified.”
Mr. Salman appealed his convictions. On June 2, 2011, the Maricopa County Superior Court upheld the convictions and stated, “[T]he Defendant was engaged in public or church activities, and further that Defendant’s convictions did not violate his Constitutional right to religious freedom.”
Of course, as WND reports it this way:
“The Rutherford Institute warned if such a precedent stands the city could require that the homes of homeschooling families, those who have dinner parties, or those who watch movies with friends to have sprinkler systems, handicap-accessible restrooms, exit signs and parking spaces.”
Let’s face it: most people don’t have 80 folks over for your average homeschooling activities, dinner parties, or movie-watching.
Michael Salman built a church on his property and filled it with 80 people on a regular basis. It’s a real stretch to claim that he is being persecuted for any reason. Yet the Rutherford Institute adopts a hysterical, melodramatic tone conspiracy nuts like WND can only love:
“If families may not gather with fellow believers on their own property to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, then religious freedom in its most basic sense is dead,” Rutherford noted.
What this really says, of course, is that “If a man cannot build an illegal church in complete and willful violation of building ordinances, then religious freedom in its most basic sense is dead.”
Doesn’t sound as melodramatic put into bare facts, does it? Which is a good reason to ignore facts and turn a case about building code violations into the big conservative buzzword: religious freedom.
This case is entirely about building safety. I would expect the same laws to apply to me were I to choose to build a hof (a Heathen temple) in my backyard. I could hardly claim religious persecution because I got nailed for violating ordinances everybody has to follow.
The upshot of all this (and the payoff, as some would see it) is that Mr. Salman ended up in Sheriff Joseph Arpaio’s infamous tent city, a place that liberals have been complaining about (and being ignored or laughed at) for years.
Of Criminals and Happy Endings
Pastor Michael Salman is serving his 60-day sentence for holding a home Bible study in Tent City Jail, a prison compound in Maricopa County, Ariz. The Phoenix pastor’s attorney describes conditions there as similar to the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
“This is where you would put Osama bin Laden, not Michael Salman,” says Rutherford Institute founder and attorney John Whitehead in an interview yesterday with International Christian Concern (ICC).
“The temperature there has been around 140 degrees, and there is no air conditioning. They’re [living] in tents. They have stun fences … barbed wire … large German shepherds walking the perimeter, armed guards and facial recognition software so that the prisoners are studied all the time.”
According to Whitehead, Salman has reported being imprisoned with “really hardened criminals.” He is unsure why the pastor has been specifically sent to Tent City. In late June, the jail was the focus of thousands of protesters who gathered outside the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office to express their disapproval of the allegedly prison camp-like conditions.
By the way, when they say Michael Salman is being imprisoned with “really hardened criminals” keep in mind that the building code violations are not the first brush he has had with the law. As Hendley said at the Phoenix New Times, they only “add to his rap sheet, next to his 1993 conviction for a drive-by shooting, and another time he was booked into jail for impersonating a police officer.”
I guess this modern Guantanamo is fine as long as it’s filled with icky Mexican immigrants. But damn if you’re going to put a Protestant pastor in there! At this point we should stand back and be entertained by exploding conservatives’ heads as they deal with this new source of cognitive dissonance.
Image: Fox News Insider
 Instead, “City code officials in Phoenix did not respond to a WND request for comment, and officials in the city prosecutor’s office declined to respond to a message requesting a comment.” You can imagine them rolling their eyes as WND fails to consult official sources of information made available on the web.
 In repeated peer-reviewed scientific studies, the dreaded “Infinite loop detected in JError” has been shown to be caused by God, a sort of computer version of a human being turned into a phallus of salt. There is no word on why Christian Post has not also been struck down by God but as conservative Christians repeatedly tell us, “God works in mysterious ways.” As they also remind us, it’s not our place to question His will.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.