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Arizona Supreme Court Refuses to Intervene in Jailed Pastor's Zoning Code Case

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By Jennifer Riley, Christian Post Reporter
July 24, 2012|9:08 pm

The Arizona Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case of the Phoenix pastor who was sentenced to 60 days in jail for holding weekly Bible study in his home in violation of the city's safety code.

The Rutherford Institute, which represents Pastor Michael Salman, announced in an email Monday that the court has denied the group's request for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a legal action where a person is required to be brought before a judge or court, which is used to protect prisoners from illegal imprisonment.

"Each day of Michael Salman's imprisonment is one more day in which the civil liberties of all Americans are being trampled by overzealous government agents," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, in a statement. "However, we are resolved to continue to challenge his detention in and out of the courts."

Salman was sentenced to serve 60 days behind bars at Tent City Jail in Maricopa County and fined more than $12,000 for 67 code violations. But he stands to serve more time because the court last week found him guilty of violating his probation by having more than 12 people at his home without complying to the city's building, fire, and other safety codes as ordered by the court.

The Salmans have held Bible studies at their property since 2005, first in their living room and later in a 2,000-square-foot game room in their backyard. The city of Phoenix said it responded to complaints by neighbors that the Salmans were hosting Bible studies at their property and after investigating concluded that the gatherings were analogous to a church and therefore should comply to code regulations that apply to commercial and public buildings, such as emergency exit signs, handicap parking spaces and handicap ramps.

In an earlier interview with The Christian Post, chief prosecutor of Phoenix Aaron J. Carreon-Ainsa said, "We are interested in ensuring that people are provided a safe place in which they can worship. We don't want a tragedy that sometimes we read about in third world countries where people are gathered for whatever purpose and perish because of a fire…"

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He also pointed out that the Salmans live in a neighborhood in Phoenix with 12 churches, and even in such a heavily-churched area, neighbors complained about his Bible study gatherings.

"[I]t (investigation) started I believe in 2006, and here we are six years later," said Carreon-Ainsa. "Some might criticize the city for having taken so long, but that is a discussion for another day. But we responded to people's complaints because they are our constituency."

In one to three weeks, the court is expected to decide what Salman's punishment is for violating his probation. Salman began his 60-day jail sentence on July 9.

 

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