The title could have been ripped right from the headlines of the New York Times, the Huffington Post or the National Enquirer and is designed to start your adrenaline flowing due to seething hatred of the gummint. However it is misleading once you read the facts. And I have some mixed feelings regarding the issue:
A Phoenix man who held weekly Bible studies at his home has had the book thrown at him over the religious gatherings. Michael Salman (pictured above) has been sentenced to two months in jail and more than $12,000 in fines because the group sessions at his home were against the city's building code, Fox News Radio reported.
"They're cracking down on religious activities and religious use," Salman told Fox News Radio. "They're attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home."
Vicki Hill, Phoenix's chief assistant city prosecutor, said religious freedom had nothing to do with it and that it was a matter of public safety.
"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," Hill told Fox News Radio. "It came down to zoning and proper permitting."
The battle between Salman and the city of Phoenix is a longstanding feud. Hill said that Salman's neighbors complained of the gatherings back in 2007 because they were causing too much traffic congestion. Originally, about 15 people would attend the Bible studies, Fox News Radio reported.
But that number began to grow, and that's when Phoenix officials sent Salman a letter saying that his living room gatherings were in violation of the city's building codes.
When he didn't stop hosting the groups, the Phoenix Fire Department broke up a Good Friday gathering Salman was hosting at his home in 2008 in which there were as many as 20 people in the backyard.
Salman then decided to construct a 2,000-square-foot building in his backyard and move the gatherings there. He said that he applied for and was granted the appropriate permits for the building.
Hill, however, said that the permits Salman received were for converting his garage into a game room.
Finally, in 2009, a dozen cops raided Salman's home and charged him with 67 code violations for hosting the gatherings.
Since then, the courts have sided with the city, saying that Salman was using the building as a church and, therefore, was subject to city zoning laws.
"He built a structure that he said wasn't a church that is, in fact, a church," Hill told Fox News Radio.
"The state is not saying that the Salmans can't run a church or have worship services at the location," read a Jan. 4, 2010, Arizona court ruling. "But the state is saying that if they do so, they must do it properly and in accord with fire and zoning laws."
Salman doesn't buy the court's argument and has claimed that Phoenix officials are discriminating against him for his religious beliefs.
"If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted," he told Fox News Radio. "But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes – that is when you have discrimination."
Salman's attorney is appealing the ruling and Salman's sentencing, but unless a federal court intervenes, Salman will begin serving his sentence on July 9.
The first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Did the city of Phoenix violate Mr. Salman's Constitutional rights by prohibiting his free exercise of his religious beliefs and disallowing him and those within his home the right to peaceably assemble? I would have to say in my opinion the city violated Mr. Salman's rights.
Did Mr. Salman ignore the cities request not to violate building codes and safety codes. In my opinion, by the text of the article, he did not follow the cities ordinances or obey the law. It would appear that he tried to evade the law by use of falsehood in identifying the purpose of the out building he constructed.
As a Christian living in a world that ridicules me for my beliefs, any government intrusion frightens me and does not give me the warm fuzzies for the future. As one who lived withing a few hundred yards away from one of the worst fires in United States history that was determined to be caused by building code violation and killed over 200 souls, I am appalled that anyone would ignore building codes.
When I was a young man during the Jesus Revolution, there were plenty of instances that I found myself cross-legged on the floor, Bible in my lap with 20 to 40 others folks. Was that a good idea? Probably not. Some of the groups I attended grew too large to contain in a house, and alternatives were sought. More often the study was moved to a church hall or some other building that was zoned for that sort of function.
I do not believe the city of Phoenix over-reached the law by requiring Mr. Salman and his Bible study group to not assemble at the Salman residence. This situation should have been avoided by holding the Bible study in a lawful structure.
Last night, GOD called back to Himself a Great Soul, Jane Kelly Durham. Janie was a true saint: courageous, generous, smart, sweet, strong, ---- I could literally go on for paragraph after paragraph, but how do you describe a real life guts and glory saint?!
Of all her admirable traits, and as I said above, these could fill a book, but of them all, the three most outstanding to me were:
1 - Her LOVE: Jane loved everyone as GOD loves them, and would forgive anything a bazillion times over if only asked for with a sincere heart. There was no pretense with Jane, no pre-requests, no holds barred. Jane loved with her whole heart, without compromise, without limits.
2 - Her COURAGE: Jane suffered horrendously, both in her personal life (the death of her husband and most of her family are but a few of the examples) and physically as she battled the ravages of Cancer (as well as the cancer treatments and surgeries) that slowly ate her alive over years of struggle and caused her unspeakable pain. Yet through it all, Jane not only kept her own spirits up, but was a daily inspiration through snail mails, emails, phone calls, and Facebook to anyone suffering anything in anyway. She offered them her shoulder to cry on; a listening and non-judgemental ear to hear their cries; her heart to love them; and her faith to remind all who came to her that GOD was still in control, that He loved them, He would never abandoned them, and someday He would make everything all right.
3 - Her HUMOR: Jane had the earthy humor of a true saint in the ink of others such as St. Padre Pio, St. Augustine, St. Teresa, G.K. Chesterson (sp?), and Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She was an ardant subscriber to the John Wayne philosphy: "Don't let the bastards get you down!" True Victim Soul and Prayer Warrior that she was, Janie could find the humor in anything if it was to be found, and if not, she would laugh at her own reaction to whatever circumstance. She could do this because her unshakeable Christian faith assured her that GOD loves us and He is in control. All we have to do is sit back, let go, and let GOD.
Now let me beg you all for your prayers; prayers not for Jane --- Jane is in Heaven enjoying eternal life with our LORD and Savior JESUS Christ. Of that fact I have absolutely no doubt. But if you could spare some prayers, please pray for Jane's family --- especially her teenage daughter, who despite Jane's absence from her life because of illness and because Jane had to spend the last several years of her life in a hospital instead of at home with her daughter, still loved her "mums" and appreciated the brief moments of joy they had left --- now that sweet child faces the world alone without father or mother. May GOD have mercy and keep her ever close to His Heart.
Please pray for all those faceless people who daily looked to Jane for comfort, for courage, for hope, for inspiration, and humor, especially her Facebook fans.
Finally, please pray for her friends... me, among them. There are no good words at the moment to describe to you the devastating loss that Jane's passing rips into my heart. Hearing her thick Irish accent on the phone, her letters, her great humor, the pictures, cartoons, posters --- hilarious and wonderful all! The thought of never again having Jane in my life, this side of Heaven, is frankly, unbearable. That's all I can say about it right now.
Oh GOD! The world has gotten so much darker, and the pain --- all pain --- so much worse now. But I do thank You, LORD GOD Almighty, that our precious Jane is with You, and that all her earthly struggles and pain are OVER!!! Praise to You, LORD JESUS Christ that our Jane lives victorious and in eternal joy with You. Thank You, merciful GOD, that death did not have the final say. Thank You, GOD, that Jane is free!