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.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
----- Next -- Some of Salman's case exhibits --------