Is It Really “Religious Discrimination”? (If It Walks Like A Church And Quacks Like A Church . . . )
We people are fickle creatures. We are quick to judgment; oftentimes without getting all sides of a story and oftentimes without thinking things through. There’s a reason we have clichés about jumping on the bandwagon. We really, really like to do it. And Christians are no different. Throw in the idea of “religious persecution” and Christians are all up in that proverbial bandwagon.
Such is the case with the case of Michael Salman, a Phoenix man now serving 60 days in jail for zoning offenses. Christians of all stripes have rallied around Mr. Salman and decried the “discrimination” that has put him in jail. After all, can’t we gather for religious purposes in our own private homes without government intrusion!? This is a travesty, right? We should rally around this man and fight the power! But what if there is more than one side to a story (which there always is)?
I could be wrong about how I’ve come to understand the situation and I’m sure many of you will disagree with me. But, if I am wrong, please show me from the facts and printed materials. But, after having read as many articles from as many different sources on this case as I could possibly find, I really don’t think this is a case of religious discrimination and I want to urge Christians to stop framing it as such. In fact, I’m not sure Mr. Salman doesn’t deserve his jail time.
As this piece points out, there is much more going on here than someone simply holding private bible studies with a few friends when the government swept in carrying off an innocent bible study leader to jail. For starters, there was a cross and a marquee in the front yard, a pulpit inside, along with up to 40 folding chairs. But here are some other facts (borrowed from here):
- Salman purchased a 3,000 square foot house at 7601 N 31st Ave. in Phoenix for $705,000 in December, 2005.
- It sits on 1.4 acres–not almost five, as many reports say. Aerial photos at Google Maps show neighbors close on both sides.
- In 2007, Salman began registering the Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church with the State of Arizona at that address as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
- On the church website, he represents himself as being an ordained pastor.
- His front yard holds two large crosses and a reader board similar to what you might see in front of many church buildings
- In 2009, he built a second 2,000 square foot building right behind his house.
- On his permit applications, he listed the building as a game room.
- He has in fact been using it for weekly religious meetings.
- The city asked him to bring his church building up to code. They want 67 things fixed–lighted exit signs installed, exits on more than one side of the building in case of fire, and so on.
As the owner of two restaurants, Mr. Salman certainly knows how to comply with building and zoning codes. As an ordained pastor, he is certainly familiar with Romans 13:1 which admonishes Christians to obey their governing authorities, or 1 Peter 2:13-20 which urges the same thing. Why then, at least on the surface, does it seem like he continually fought the zoning requirements here? It appears to me that the government has not told him he can’t have religious gatherings, just that he should comply with zoning requirements. That’s discrimination?
If you are an ordained pastor who has incorporated a named entity then it’s more than just a home bible study and pretending otherwise does no one any good.
I realize that I have a tendency to be overly cynical and it’s something I often pray about, so if that’s the case here, please help me see it. But this just doesn’t seem like religious discrimination to me. In fact, it seems like a guy playing that card when he has been given multiple opportunities to comply. If that’s the case then we should be more quick to listen and research before we cry foul. My heart goes out to the Salman family. I can only imagine what a stressful time this is, but I also can’t help but wonder if this entire situation could have been avoided.
What do you think?