Pastor Michael Salman Files Federal Complaint Over Right to Hold Backyard Church Services; Phoenix Says Structure Violates Codes

Categories: Church People
salman michael full sciorio.jpg
Image: Giulio Sciorio
Michael Salman still claims he can hold backyard worship services, despite what Phoenix officials say. With a 60-day jail sentence looming, Salman's trying his luck in federal court.

A Phoenix pastor's fight to hold church services in his backyard has moved to federal court.

Michael Salman has battled his neighbors and the city of Phoenix for years, arguing he has the constitutional right to have about 50 friends each week to worship God in the backyard of his home, near 31st and Northern avenues. Officials say they're concerned that a structure in the backyard, the gathering spot for the pastor's flock, is a potential fire hazard.

New Times wrote about Salman's predicament in 2008 and again in 2009, following a raid by police. In September, Salman was convicted of several zoning and fire-code violations and sentenced to 60 days in jail. The case is on appeal.

Zoning officials stormed the property last month, slapping the pastor with 10 new code violations. (The March 21 citation can be seen in the second PDF below -- it's the last exhibit.) The gazebo-like building in the yard doesn't have fire sprinklers, exit signs, exit doors, proper electrical wiring, and other mandatory items for a commercial building. Salman maintains it's not a commercial building.


Last week, Salman filed a request for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court to halt further action by the city, and also requested that his jail sentence be set aside. He filed a 72-page complaint against the city, Councilman Claude Mattox, a cop and a zoning inspector. Salman and his wife are representing themselves.



The ministry has a name -- Harvest Christian Fellowship Church -- but only because some kind of church affiliated is required for members to be allowed to help prisoners, Salman tells New Times. Otherwise, the group isn't a church. To him, he's just having people over in a "private setting." None of the guests even park on the street, he says.



"I know these people," he says. "My home is not open to the public."



Salman says he pulls in no salary from his role as pastor. He owns a
restaurant; his wife's a real estate agent. There's no financial end to
the worship services, he says: "No, nothing, zero."



Salman filed an amended restraining order request earlier this week, along with correspondence with city officials (see below).



In the March raid, as happened in 2009, Salman and his family were
detained in the living room as inspectors looked for evidence.



"No matter what we say to them, they're just going to keep going on and on," he says. "These guys are perverted."







No more rendering unto Caesar for this guy.

salman tro request

----- Next -- Some of Salman's case exhibits --------

salman exhibits 1

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36 comments
Cpunt2002
Cpunt2002

Religion is not from God.  It is a relationship with the God/man Jesus Christ.  He did it all, He paid it all.  Without Him there is no Salvation, it's got nothing to do with me, by believing in who He is, and what He did I have eternal life.  It's taking my mind off of me and placing it on Him...forgiveness is only in Him...He is it.

Cpunt2002
Cpunt2002

 City Hall is trampling the constitution.  They work for the taxpayer, it's not the other way around.  I don't care whether or not you agree with Mike Salman, when government officials shred your constitution...your rights, your freedoms will soon all be gone.  Look around you at what is happening today...have the fluoride removed from your water so you can start thinking straight.

Cpunt2002
Cpunt2002

You've got your translation all wrong.  God loves every one...He forgave the sins of the world.  He even paid your debt though it sounds like you don't deserve it.

Janalina
Janalina

Why not just do what you need to do to bring the building up to code? Wouldn't that be easier than all this time and money spent in court? And what about your neighbors? Shouldn't you consider their feelings and their right to enjoy their property. The article I read said that you want to build a 4200 sq ft structure close to the property line. If I were your neighbor I would be very upset about that. I read your posts and you seem to be very focused on the law and your rights being infringed upon, but there is very little I see about living the Golden Rule and taking the path that will create a good outcome for all parties. If your living room gatherings have outgrown your home why to move to a commercial space and open your church up to a wider audience? You have a website that advertises your church so it doesn't seem as casual as you claim it is. Again, this would concern me if I spent my hard earned money and bought the house next door to you. Sometimes we have to think about how our actions affect others. I think you need to reflect and perhaps change your course of action to a more positive and fruitful direction.

Katie101493
Katie101493

The issue here is the violation of his Constitutional rights.  If you read other articles it says that he built an addition to his yard and the state labeled it a recreation room.  This means that the room is privately owned and is for Pastor Salman, family and friends.  It is not open to the public.  The state had no issue with it when he was having be a game room, but once it turned into a place of worship, the state changed their story.   I have read numerous accounts of this and have drawn the conclusion that the Pastor and his family are not wrong for holding a private bible study in there home, seeing that they were not collecting any money or donations from it. One must look at it without bias.  This man holding a bible study at his home is no different form one of us holding a birthday party, election campaign, MaryKay Makeup meeting.  He is constitutionally allowed to do what he wishes in his home provided it doesn't infringe on others rights.  That is the beauty of America.  

Tiyuri98
Tiyuri98

If you had 50 friends with 50 cars parked in MY NEIGHBORHOOD every Sunday night I would call the police on you EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT.

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

How to silence a pastor? Ask him for proof of something tangible, that he can't find an answer for in scripture. Tax returns, Mr. Salman. That's where you will find the answers. Have the little woman you're married to go out and find a building that meets code for commercial usages, such as a church. In the mean time you can pray for such a miracle and then give credit when it comes through. You win, the neighbors win, the city wins, the state wins. Do you get it yet or do I need to just type more slowly?

ExpertShot
ExpertShot

Mr. Collins:

Usually, I find your responses here inciteful and honest. Here - I'm getting the feeling you've got some personal axe to grind. I suspect that there is sufficient evidence here to indicate to a federal court that this individual's rights to be free from unfair government interference. Violations of privacy depend on context. The human right to privacy has precedent in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

I suspect that in any other case of government intereference in a person's private property rights, you might be on the opposite side of the government - here however, you are not. This rises questions in my mind about your objectivity in this matter.

I agree that using religious activity to hide fraud or exploitation of others is abhorent but it doesn't appear this is the case here.

In my opinion, the ACLU should help this guy out.

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

Expert Shot, I respect your opinion, as well. No axe to grind with the Pastor. I just get the feeling from the reporting that he is trying to skirt the law by holding services on his personal property when he should get a brick and mortar location to do so, away from his neighbors. It's become obvious that he is apparently in violation of local codes and ordinances but he continues to hold his services when and where he chooses, in spite of having been given warnings to not do so.

I just think if the guy is ensconced in his religious beliefs he should take a step forward and look for a place to hold the services. There are LOTS of store fronts available these days. I would imagine a developer who is deeply religious might be willing to make an in-kind donation of space for the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church. Filing these motions and fighting zoning laws will only result in wasting money that could be going toward the operation of the church. It seems to me the Pastor could be doing this somewhat better.

Linxi4
Linxi4

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Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

Mr. Salman, unless you're pure as the driven snow (not often seen in Phoenix,by the way) and you are NOT cheating on your state and federal income taxes, you really don't want to push this to the federal level. You may end up playing Al Capone... and delivering the word of God in prison... for evading taxes...

What say you, Mr. Salman?

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

I wonder what his tax return shows as deductions? If he claims any of the expenses of the 'church' against his personal income then it would seem to me he is actually running a business from his house. I'm sure the law enforcement folks have already looked into this.

Harvestchristian
Harvestchristian

I did not know this article would come out so soon. So lets answer some of your questions: I have been born again since 1995. I gave my life to Christ because I knew the path I was on was the wrong path. In 1996 I began ministering on the street in mission and helping the homeless, speaking in schools and ministering in places where people do not want to go. I have had my life threatened many times but God has delivered me through them all. I had nothing in my pocket and I never took a dime from any church I ever pastored in. I pastored in large churches that maybe some of you probably went to or heard of. I was a youth pastor, an assistant pastor and associate pastor before God called me in 2001 to start HCF. I started preaching in the Jails, Hospice and other places while conducting bible studies in my home. I was a painter and a cab driver and worked very hard. I have 6 children and have been married for 11 years. Nothing was ever given to me on a silver platter other than what my Lord provided for me. I am a Christian and I love Jesus and I am proud of it. When I moved to this neighborhood in 2005 we even had 2 of our neighbors attend our home studies for alomost 1 year before objecting to our meeting here. They objected because they said that a church in the neighborhood was going to bring down there property values. So after plans and stuff just didn't amount to it we decided to keep it private. Why can I not have bible studies with my family and friends in my backyard? Why do you think you have the right to have parties in your backyard and in your home but I am not allowed to worship on my property? Are you better than me? Or do you think you have more rights than I do? Whatever we call ourself means nothing? The fact is we do not park in the street or anyones lot? The nearest home is alomost 100 feet away from us. We live on 4.6 acreas. Why do I not have the right to enjoy my property the way I want to? I do not open my home to the public? When a building inspector tells me that me and my wife can play games in the building but we are not allowed to worship in the building there is a problem. I have rights and this city is trampling on them and instead of Americans fighting for our rights you decided to judge me? Shame on some of you. I am an American and I will fight and defend my God given Christian American Rights. If I go to jail it will not be as a Criminal but as a Christian. I not only live for my Lord I will die for my Lord. If I was in China, I would do the same. I boast not in my self but in Christ. God knows my heart and He is the one I must answer to. In Jesus Name.

Harvestchristian
Harvestchristian

@ Tommy Collins, You having friends over for a dinner every week does not make you a restaurant? Does it? Now you may say, "yeah well I don't have 40 or more of them over every week". Then my reply to you would be then, how many is too many? This is the million dollar question. Further Mr. Collins, what do I need to do to have friends and family over for worship without being a "Church", in other words, what triggers a religious gathering from just being just that versus being a "Church"? Here are questions I would like you to answer, How many people can someone have over their home? Do you have people come to your home to watch a movie? To eat dinner? I think you get my point. You see Mr. Collins and others, the City can not just make up the rules as they go. They can not tell someone that they can not do something but not tell them what they can do. A person needs to know what they can and can't do, this is the law. When they tell someone what they can and can't do they can not discriminate at it. In other words you can not say, if you have a B-day party you are fine but if you want to have a Bible Study you must convert your property into a Church. When you say "Why?" they can not return and say, "Well because a B-day party happens only once a year while a bible study every week." Is there anything written that states this? and when thier reply is "No, it is just common sense." Then what you have is people walking around making individualized assessment to what they believe is common sense to them. Folks that is scary. The law must be clear and not based on interpertation, it also can not discriminate between religious and non-religious meetings or gatherings. I will give you a chance to answer and anyone else to answer. Enjoy.

Docbob498th
Docbob498th

Harvechristian.................. i am a devout atheist and I agree with your position 100% (Cept for the god and jesus part)

Native Guns
Native Guns

Mr. Salman, you got numerous neighbors complaining against you and your cult. If your wife is a real estate agent, according to this article. Then you need have your wife go out and find you a building suitable for your cult worships. Quit trying to be something that you are not. If you really want to be a "pastor" or a bishop. You should know that false prophets are the worst sinners of all. You sir, need to make your "private worship" legit. It doesn't make any sense that that you are going about saying this is not a "Church", yet goes on to preach as such. Hence the adage--"If it walks like a duck, quack like a duck, then it must be a duck"

I smell fraud and tax evasion. Its a cause for concern.

j_in_mesa
j_in_mesa

"I smell fraud and tax evasion. Its a cause for concern." I smell someone who worships the state in lieu of a traditional God. ... don't care if he pays taxes or not. If it was on my street I would make my concerns known - not through force, though. [I am an atheist.]

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

If you go to jail, Mr. Salman, you won't have to gather in your back yard, and you certainly will have a captive audience. You seem to be running your own church process. Maybe you should include a church building as part of it. There must be an answer to this problem in your bible...

Harvestchristian
Harvestchristian

@ Tommy Collins. If you are asking if we claim any of the worship expenses on our taxes, the answer is No. What we do at our home is our private worship. This is not a business. Our home worship is our home worship. Yet, this is not even a point even if you were to think it proves anything. Do you think people claim their car on their taxes? Or their home expenses on their taxes? People claim their home office and other things of personal value like their car mileage on their taxes. Just because they do that does not mean their home office or house suddenly become the company that they work for. If I work as an Independant salesperson for JP Morgan and chase under a 1099 and use my car and office for write offs it is permitted. Does my car or home become JP Morgan and Chase? The Tax reasoning means nothing. By the way you still didn't answer any of my questions??? Why are you voiding them.

Harvestchristian
Harvestchristian

@ Tommy Collins, You having friends over for a dinner every week does not make you a restaurant? Does it? Now you may say, "yeah well I don't have 40 or more of them over every week". Then my reply to you would be then, how many is too many? This is the million dollar question. Further Mr. Collins, what do I need to do to have friends and family over for worship without being a "Church", in other words, what triggers a religious gathering from just being just that versus being a "Church"? Here are questions I would like you to answer, How many people can someone have over their home? Do you have people come to your home to watch a movie? To eat dinner? I think you get my point. You see Mr. Collins and others, the City can not just make up the rules as they go. They can not tell someone that they can not do something but not tell them what they can do. A person needs to know what they can and can't do, this is the law. When they tell someone what they can and can't do they can not discriminate at it. In other words you can not say, if you have a B-day party you are fine but if you want to have a Bible Study you must convert your property into a Church. When you say "Why?" they can not return and say, "Well because a B-day party happens only once a year while a bible study every week." Is there anything written that states this? and when thier reply is "No, it is just common sense." Then what you have is people walking around making individualized assessment to what they believe is common sense to them. Folks that is scary. The law must be clear and not based on interpertation, it also can not discriminate between religious and non-religious meetings or gatherings. I will give you a chance to answer and anyone else to answer. Enjoy.

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

Do you list ANY of the costs of your services on your personal income taxes, Mr. Salman?

Brian M
Brian M

If I had 50 people over every Sunday night to watch Sunday night football, and have a couple beers, NO ONE would bat an eye -- and you ALL know that to be true. But the fact that this guy wants to worship God - THIS puts a sticker in peoples sides and they want it stopped. Heaven forbid we have someone who actually BELIEVES that stuff!!! And further, I can not believe the judgemental comments of some below.. CULT LEADER??? I have NO IDEA what this man believes besides what the article says: he and 50 friends (NOT the general public) meet at his house to worship. All the other statements below are nothing more than irresponsible judgements.

Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

Code violations are just another form of taxing the people. It has nothing to do with religions or safety because the city or county could care less about your religion or your safety. It's a way to take our money, plain and simple. It's just like building permts. If you are building a house and you are personally building it with your own two hands you will be inspected each step of the way. If you fail an inspection, you must re do the work. If your permit runs out you have to pay for another one. But when a general contractor builds 50 homes at one time an inspector doesn't come out and inspect it every step of the way. Look at the way these new homes are being built. Mistakes are covered up every step of the way and no fines for the contractor. It's about money. If you don't have money you get fined for everything. If you've got money and have a private party once a week you don't get fined for any code violation. People without money can't just move out to a ranch. And just because you own a restaurant doesn't mean you have money. It's an income and most barely make it even if it is a restaurant. They're also trying to help people that the city and state don't want to be helped...ex cons.

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

Walter, code violations are to keep a neighborhood from turning into "Junkville", with junk cars parked there, old refrigerators and freezers discarded in the front yard, etc. Code violations are mala prohibita, in other words, prohibited by law at the quest of the people deemed on their cultural and moral standards, not necessarily a crime of nature such as murder. The fines attached are supposed to be a deterrent and in most cases many warnings are issued before fines are levied and collected. But you knew that already, I bet.

Johnny White Man
Johnny White Man

I wonder how much this cult leader knows about the scriptures. How knowledgable his is in the Christian faith in terms of the Holy Bible. Otherwise, he might as well be using the "Freedom of Religion Act" as a basis for tax exemption. This cult leader could be a fraud.

God goes to a gay party
God goes to a gay party

Mr. Salman doesn't earn a salary as pastor of Church of The Blessed Gazebo.Well, poopoo !!! Dude owns a restaurant and his girl is a realtor. I wonder how his pastorness does for his income tax filings.

Fat Bob Cote was many things back in 1979... He was a city bus driver in Long Beach, California. He owned a penthouse apartment overlooking the Pacific at the International Towers building on Ocean Blvd. He came to work at the bus co. in a white, chauffeur driven 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman stretch limousine. Fat Bob was notoriously homosexual and gave lavish parties for his young male friends ( booze, pot and Methamphetamine served as party favors ). Fat Bob was something else rather strange...

AN ORDAINED MINISTER !

Fat Bob told me one time that he got himself ordained by the church not for any belief in God, necessarily, but because he had a good income, and the fancy car and 6 figure penthouse were purchased with an inheritance from a very wealthy aunt, and as a minister of his bullshit church he paid NO TAXES on anything - salary - gifts - or endowments from dead folks. And anyone who heard "Oh my God" eminating from the top floor penthouse would think it was a church service and not some gay kid getting plowed in the butt.

I'll bet you can still pull that kind of shit today. After all, you can't take God's cash, that would be blasphemous, you sinner.

mirele
mirele

Is he paying appropriate taxes on the improvement in his back yard? Or is he claiming that it's religious in nature and thus exempt from property tax?

James King
James King

no he pays no taxes.

God goes to a gay party
God goes to a gay party

Like I said... ordainment nullifies the tax problem.God don't pay taxes. Neither do his homies - even gay homies !The Bible sez "God hates fags". But God sez, "I hate the I.R.S. more."

XSoldier
XSoldier

I don't think that this guy is supposed to be holding church services in his backyard. So I can see the zoning and fire hazards. Further, why send the guy to Sheriff Joe's gulags for 2 months? That, to me, is a waste of taxpayer money.

Mr. Salman may prevail in his TRO but I don't think he'll win a federal lawsuit. Sounds like he learned from MCSO Captain Joel Fox.

James King
James King

being as he is clean cut and either bald or short haired my advice is to not trust him at all.

mirele
mirele

I agree...fine him, that will hurt more than time in jail. You put him in jail, you make him a martyr.

vic
vic

One question, New Times, tax exemption with that "church" name or not in this case?

Johnny White Man
Johnny White Man

Good question. The cult leader is saying that this is not a "Church". Yet, "50 or so" people gather each week at his "private setting". If I were his neighbor--yes its a nuisance! Kick this guy off the block and move him onto a ranch outside of town somewhere. Take the cult with him.

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