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Jail Sentence Stands for Host of Home Bible Studies

Arizona court dismisses complaint of Phoenix homeowner whose Bible studies failed to meet building code requirements for a church.

A Phoenix homeowner who held weekly Bible studies in his backyard must serve jail time for failing to comply with building, zoning, fire, and safety codes applicable to churches, ruled a federal district court in Arizona last week.

In 2008, the City of Phoenix ordered Michael Salman to comply with code requirements for a church after neighbors complained about his weekly Bible studies, which often drew 50 people to a gazebo in his backyard. Salman refused, claiming the order violated his free exercise rights, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, fined $12,000, and given three year's probation–during which he could not host more than 12 people in his home, reports Religion Clause.

On Friday, the federal district court dismissed Salman's attempt to halt this judgment because a lower federal court had already heard his complaint and dismissed it for failing to first exhaust legal options at the state level.

This is not the first time home Bible studies have been cited or barred in the recent past.

In 2011, the California city of San Juan Capistrano fined Chuck Fromm, former president of Maranatha! Music and co-founder and editor of Worship Leader magazine, for holding Bible studies in his family home without a permit. Fromm and his wife Stephanie filed a lawsuit but later dropped it after the city agreed to reimburse the couple and re-examine its permit rules for religious meetings in residential areas.

In April 2009, San Diego county officials issued a warning to David and Mary Jones for hosting a weekly Bible study in their home without a permit for religious assembly; the county rescinded the warning in June of that year. In November of that year, Joe Sutherland of Gilbert, Arizona, was given a cease-and-desist order for church meetings in his home because it violated the city's zoning code. The city council revised the code the following March to allow the meetings.

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