Battle over backyard building: Is it a church or not?

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PHOENIX – Michael Salman is a Phoenix pastor who gathers about 50 friends and family members every Sunday at his home for worship. 

The worship takes place in a backyard structure that he calls a game room but neighbors call a church. The city of Phoenix calls it illegal and the issue has, again, brought police and fire out there to investigate.

Salman, who was convicted of multiple code and zoning violations in 2010 and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years probation, was again cited Monday.

"They said we have seven violations because we are running a church and a church has to conform to commercial standards," Salman said.

Neighbors say the congregation is disruptive and they want the weekly scheduled services to stop.

"I have no problems with churches, but that is an illegal structure," Guy Dryer said.

"Our immediate concern is that they stop," Wade Bonine said. "They shouldn't be congregating illegally or occupying the building illegally."

The issue has brought police and firefighters to the home on more than one occasion. Salman has posted video of the raids on YouTube. The city says this facility was constructed without proper permits, and calls it a safety issue because fire codes are different for large public gatherings, but the Salmans are adamant this is not public or commercial.

Salman said his weekly gatherings are no different than birthday parties or backyard weddings. He believes he is being discriminated against because his group is worshiping and he plans on filing a federal lawsuit.