Dave Hodges

More About: Religion: Unregistered Churches

Prayer Police Strike Again….The Rest of the Story

In situations involving conflict, there are two sides to every story and the truth generally lies in the middle. This seems to be the case involving Pastor Michael Salman and his battle with the City of Phoenix and his own neighborhood over Salman’s right to engage in religious worship in a quiet, well-to-do neighborhood.


Upon moving into his $700,000 home, Salmon and his wife, Suzanne, were upfront about their faith and informed the neighbors that they would be having Sunday services which they promised would not disturb the neighbors. However, the Salmon’s neighbors allege that they promised Sunday-only services quickly turned into boisterous basketball games, loud music, the creation of a day care center and overflow parking which frequently blocked many of their neighbor’s driveways on a nightly basis. Clearly, in the minds of Salmon’s neighbors, he and his church had become a nuisance to the peace and well-being of the neighborhood.

Salman’s neighbors complained that their home values could diminish as a result of the church and its activities. At an association meeting, Salman addressed the home value issue by stating that the neighborhood should be willing to “sacrifice a little” since they would make money on the resale of their homes anyway. Predictably, this did not sit well with the neighbors.

Earlier this month, the Phoenix police raided the Salman residence seeking evidence that he had been holding religious services in his backyard. When I read Greg Dixon’s piece Prayer Police Strike Again – This Time It’s Phoenix  (http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Opinion/052156-2009-06-21-prayer-police-strike-again-this-time-its-phoenix.htm) and the preceding New Times, Sarah Fenske article (http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2008-01-17/news/michael-salman-wants-to-build-a-church-in-his-backyard-his-neighbors-aren-t-buying-it/1 ), I was initially outraged that Pastor Michael Salmon’s family and guests were held at bay by the Phoenix police as they searched for evidence that Salmon was illegally holding religious services on his private property. As Mr. Dixon reported, this appeared to be another case of government sponsored harassment of Christians similar to what recently took place in San Diego. Yet, as I looked more deeply into this case, I discovered that there was another side to this story, a side that is not being as well reported.

It is very clear that Pastor Michael Salman’s neighbors do not like him and they do not care for his church because both are perceived by the neighborhood as a major nuisance. Salman’s neighbors are quick to tell anyone who will listen that they are concerned that he is an ex-felon. Salman served time for a drive-by shooting during a time in his life when he was a gang member. Some are willing to give Pastor Salman a free pass on this past transgression as they recognize that this could be a powerful part of his religious testimony. However, his neighbors will quickly point out that they are increasingly concerned because they discovered that even after Salman became a pastor, he was arrested and booked on a misdemeanor for impersonating a police officer. According to court records, a young girl from Salman's church was allegedly “involved” with an older boy. Reportedly, at the parents' request, Salmon went to the boy's house, impersonated a cop with the intent of frightening the boy into leaving the girl alone. The biblical scripture which encourages such pastoral intervention momentarily escapes me. However, the mud slinging against Salman smells like character assassination by his neighbors and has very little to do with the issues of religious expression versus the neighbors right to peace and quiet. Further, as concerning as Salman’s past actions might be to some, this still does not give any agency of the government the legal right to storm a house with the intent of punishing American citizens for peacefully worshipping their God.

Mudslinging and hyperbole aside, I found that this case is much more complex than a simple persecution involving one’s religious rights to worship as one pleases. It is clear that Michael Salmon and his Harvest Christian Community Church, whether he meant to or not, embarked upon a path which served to antagonize and disrupt the lives of the residents of an upscale residential neighborhood in North Phoenix.

The issue came to a head when the Phoenix zoning department informed the police that they were refused admittance to the Salmon residence/church. It now appears that Pastor Salman was conducting services within a structure that had been erected in his backyard. Reportedly, the structure did not have a permit to be built for the purpose of religious worship and contained none of the safety features required by law such as fire retardant sprinklers. Granted, this does have the appearance of Big Brother having too much time on their hands. However, Salman’s apparent civil disobedience did open the legal door for the police to become involved, and become involved, they did.

The police raid in question came in response to Salman’s perceived lack of compliance with the zoning regulations and his overt lack of cooperation with city zoning officials and his defiance in continuing to hold religious services without making the ordered changes in the place of worship. There can be little question that the raid was indeed an excessive show of force, but it does not appear to have been physically abusive. The Phoenix Police, investigating alleged zoning violations, clearly had no right to detain the Salman guests which they did. The family, however, was monitored during the investigation for the safety of the police, and rightfully so. In the increasingly common police approach to justice which seems to be characterized by a “let’s kill a fly with a sledgehammer approach,” the number of police participating and the length of the raid (almost two hours) was an unnecessary waste of public resources for the size and scope of the alleged improprieties.  

The American public needs to be very concerned about zoning regulations which limit one’s right to engage in the practice of their faith. Certainly, the former Soviet Union legislated many churches out of existence through the use of zoning. Yet, there is a balance which must be struck between the free exercise of one’s religion and the disruption to private lives that the Salman’s church may have caused. Salmon’s neighbors reportedly did not object to 20-25 people attending a bible study. They did vehemently did object to the loss of property values and the constant disruption to their lives by what they perceived to be infringement upon the previous serenity of their neighborhood.  

The City of Phoenix attempted to find the middle ground in this issue by demanding that Salman build a parking spot in his backyard for every three seats in his church. This regulation is consistent with requirements placed on other private and public entities. The city seemed to be genuinely trying to work with Salman and his congregation. However, Salman refused to meet with his councilman and neighbors in order to work out a solution. Salman did not do much to alleviate the concerns of his neighbors when his next door neighbor found it necessary to obtain a restraining order against him after an angry encounter between the two while Salmon was on the neighbor’s property.

Salman has proudly proclaimed that the United States Justice Department will sue, on his behalf, if the city breaks up anymore religious meetings on his property. Following the raid, the ball is clearly in Salman’s court and the issue appears to be headed for a legal showdown. It is becoming increasingly clear that Salman may very well get the legal help that he will need in order to challenge the City of Phoenix in court. Perhaps, in a strange twist of fate, the City of Phoenix may inadvertently end up funding the construction of a church on Salman’s property.

The Salman case could very well become a test case to resolve several legal issues involving the relationship between a neighborhood and a church. Do churches have a duty to be a good neighbor and obey the land use regulations of the community in which they operate? Who decides what a good neighbor is and what that definition would entail? This is where the issue becomes very murky. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA) purports to protect the rights of churches to be built and practice their religion in residential neighborhoods. To be determined is an answer to the question of whether or not the Salman’s can operate their church, with total disregard for the rights of their neighbors. Clearly, a judge will ultimately decide this issue. In this era of judge made law, all of us may lose a lot more when this issue is finally adjudicated than either the Salman or his neighbors.


Nothing is ever quite as simple as it is sometimes made out to be.

18 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ed Price
Entered on:

The problem with libertarians and constitutionalists regarding this issue is, that they don't consider the root problem. They look at the law and the laws. And they respond based on the law and the laws, but they don't answer, correctly, where law enforcement and Government officials are wrong!

The place that law enforcement and Government officials are wrong is NOT in their handling of the law or the laws. The place where they are dead wrong is that they broke their Oaths of Office to uphold the Constitution.

How are Government officials and law enforcement wrong with regard to the Constitution? They are totally wrong by allowing laws like those used against Salman to gain such strength. They are wrong in the way they allow laws to circumvent the foundational law - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Possibly the prosecuting and conviction of Salman is totally correct withing the confines and structure of the law used against him. But the lawmakers and law enforcement people should be convicted - as a minimum - of the same things that Salman was, for letting laws be placed into such strength that they could circumvent the Constitution that holds those minor laws in place.

It's called "lack of good faith" and "trust breaking" when Government officials and law enforcement set up laws and enforce them so that the existence of Constitutional test cases like these come into being in the first place.

Comment by Kermit Frogtastic
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I'll be sure to consider your post if I ever need instruction on how to be a knee-jerk, religion-despising sinner. Criminey, if ignorance is bliss, you must be one happy liberal.

Comment by Ana Panot
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I like your comment, George.  You speak the truth about this writer who writes nonsense from "Cloud 9".  Ufactdirt, George and the rest of the Avengers for public good, bring it on!!!

Comment by George Voit
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Dave Hodges, you are talking about "Salman’s right to engage in religious worship in a quiet, well-to-do neighborhood ...". No, no, noooooo.... let’s face it! As JV has pointed out in his comment below, you should be talking about the Pastor's VIOLATION of law in the practice of his religious worship in Phoenix, Arizona that gave law enforcement officers no alternative but to arrest him, and the Judge to sentence him to serve 60 days in jail and to pay a fine of $12k required by law.

Don't be so stupid to talk about "freedom to practice" his religious worship. Pastor Salman’s religious worship has never been challenged. That is NOT the reason why the police nabbed him, put his hands behind his back and handcuffed him, and neither was that the reason why the Judge kicked his ass to prison ... moron! Convicted for violating Arizona law applicable to churches, you must have to admit that on record, Pastor Michael Salman is a religious felon.

Nincompoops have no idea why this religious felon was jailed … no, not at all. They are in Cloud 9 talking NONSENSE!

Look here donkeys, anyone who breaks the law applicable to churches goes to jail, period! Any pastor crying to high heavens after violating the law won’t work. God won’t help pastors, let alone encourage them, to break the law under His name … are you kidding me????

Comment by Courtney Jalospanis
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To PureTrust, according to Kim Dryer you are actually Donna Hancock writing under the name PureTrust. Must Kim Dryer have to be right for calling you a WHORE , a maker of "false religion and social divide"? See Kim Dryer’s comment (#045713) entered on: 2012-07-10 19:13:43. (#010621)

You just showed it to me that you are, when you posted your comment against my person [see your comment entered on: 2012-07-14 12:40:31] and like a flirt showing her vicious whoredom, creates a false impression, and social divide in the name of God!

Comment by Ed Price
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I have to side with JV and Ufactdirt on this one. Poor little Ufactdirt. In an effort to recognize and remind himself how much he is allergic to and hates himself, he included "dirt" in his FP handle. Poor little guy!

Comment by Joseph Vanderville
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Ufactdirt, thanks for your support to make some "loonies" see the light of day. Bless the members of the group you are in, who are working hard in the side, and for the interest, of the public, to the frustrations of those in the dark side who found a home in this website.

Comment by Courtney Jalospanis
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I am allergic to dirt, that is why I hate dirt. My day is ruined.

I like to monitor this discussion, but Kermit Frogtastic --- you ruined my day. You are a wicked croaking dirty-mouthed frog that leaped out of the muddy pond and from out of nowhere disrupted this debate.

Everybody including myself reads the position taken by Joseph Vanderville … that this Pastor Michael Salman violated a Phoenix, Arizona law, that’s why we understand why he was arrested and sentenced to serve 60 days in jail. You should have focused on this issue and not stepped out of the line squeaking your dirty mouth out and ruin everybody’s day.

Read your own comment … no sense came out from your mouth except spewing insults on JV’s person. JV is not the issue on this debate, idiot. What kind of a rabid dog are you that strayed into this page? You will bite others too and spread your mental rabies. You should be isolated and quarantined.

Morons can’t see normally because they have no mind’s eye like you. You cannot see what is published and debated here, much more understand what the people are discussing about. If you can only be even just an intellectual shadow of JV, you could have made my day instead of ruining it. Besides, your Mom would have been so happy for giving you birth instead of feeling so ashamed she had ever conceived you. Now looking back, to abort you could have crossed her mind.

And I wouldn’t blame her.

Comment by Kermit Frogtastic
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 Joseph Vanderville, I've seen homeless people shouting at pigeons who make more sense than you. Are you auditioning to be an MSNBC host, or do you just enjoy being an irrational moron?

Comment by Joseph Vanderville
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There are NO two sides of this story -- this is only a ONE-SIDED hell of a story ... Pastor Michael Salman VIOLATED Arizona law with a stupid excuse that he is only practicing his religious belief and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution. Religious abusers like this are dangerous and should spend their days in jail forever for the protection of the general public -- not just 60 days. They can pray or practice their religion in solitary confinement. Anti-State psychopaths supporting this arrested disciple of Satan are as contemptible as this religious felon is.

Comment by Russell Smith
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Nice apologetic and soft soaping of a overreaching government that does not respect an individuals private property.  If there are noise violations, blocking the street, ect. than issue citations, that's appropriate.  I would even go so far as to say that visible negative conditions of the property can be cited, but the limitations of government authority have been exceeded and there is an abuse of authority due to whiny and apparently influential neighbors.  There's nothing more disgusting than government that favors affluent citizenry at the expense of the common folks.  The attempts at character assassination are a pathetic and irrelevant aspect of this apologetic.  What does this guys checkered past have to do with residential code violations?  And since when are civil offenses punishable by imprisonment.  In the end sum, government and society in many areas of America amount to satanic hell holes.  'Forbid a common, dirty, born-again, evangelical from tarnishing our pristine island in hell.'  Hope you enjoy it.

Comment by Roy watson
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 Sounds like the good pastor wants to ram his personal brand of christian beliefs down his neighbors throats and does not care if they want a part in his style of operating or not. And when they get the law involved he screams they attacking me for being a christian.

Comment by Koali Engle
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Jesus gave His 2nd of Two Commandments "Love thy neighbor as thy self".  

Apostle Paul said "Be all things to all people." Also "Without Love...  just a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol. 2 Corin 13

Where is the fruit?  Is there an environment where the Holy Spirit is welcome and moving?

You never block your neighbors driveway. How about having 2 small groups rather than 1 huge one. If ever there was a time to be a relief to people and an example of Christ's Love instead of what the world does - is now.  


Comment by Art Vandalay
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Government good. Government friend. Government not bad! Government make sure everyone happy.

Comment by Ed Price
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See my comment at.

Comment by fl hill
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The police were asked to investigate a former gang-banger with a Jim Jones complex who refused legitimate access to city representatives.  A few months ago a similar call was made by a social worker in a situation that resulted in the burning deaths of two children. Exactly how were the police supposed to respond? "Papers, please"?

Comment by roy klopfenstein
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 When the worst citizens cover their activities as "religion" they attract the busybodies of government, jeopardizing freedom for all of us.  True christians will be quiet, cooperative, and non confrontational. 

Comment by Powell Gammill
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Dave, Dave, Dave. It is as simple as freedom good, government bad, bad, bad, bad, bad! This is America.  And in America if you don't like your neighbors you are free to burn them out of their home. But you don't go snitching to the government. TFPIC

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