Phoenix man accused of building church in backyard to be jailed

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Michael Salman says he is a man prosecuted because of where he chooses to worship, but the City of Phoenix says he is a man falsely representing buildings on his property - running them like churches without the proper permits.

Inside a back building on his property, near 35th and Glendale Avenues, is a pulpit and chairs - room for the 30 to 40 who gather here weekly. Still Salman insists this is no public church.

"If people can gather for Superbowl parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, poker night, then we have the right to gather here every week,' said Salman.

The City, and neighbors, disagreed with that statement.

Inspectors say for what Salman was doing, he needed dozens of building and safety updates. All Salman says he was doing was practicing freedom of religion. The court disagreed.

"I was found guilty for violating 67 violations," Salman said.

Salman appealed that decision and lost. He  was sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years probation, which he's due to start serving any day.

He still maintains his worship space is private and it should be treated that way.

"You're taking a man out of society and sticking him in jail for worshiping at his home!" he said. 

The Maricopa County Prosecutor's Office tells 3TV that this is not a religious freedom issue, but that Salman has consistently refused to comply with building codes and safety standards that are required by law.