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Arizona man sent to jail for holding Bible studies in his home

A Phoenix pastor who was jailed for holding a Bible study group on his private property is now holding one behind bars.

Michael Salman is serving a 60-day sentence in Maricopa County's notorious Tent City jail for allegedly violating his probation by holding religious services on his property in violation of zoning and building codes. He was arrested July 9, after authorities charged the one-time gang member hosted Bible sessions for as many 80 people on his 4-acre property, which he tried to claim as a tax-exempt church.

'I'm sure he'd do it all over again.'

- John Whitehead, lawyer for Michael Salman

"And I'm sure he'd do it all over again," attorney John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, told FoxNews.com.

In a sense, he is. Salman has assembled a Bible study group on site that has been attended by as many as 30 inmates, according to Whitehead. On Thursday, he was chosen to lead inmates in prayer for the anniversary of the Tent City jail, just before they dined on moon pies, according to a report.

The married father of six is an ordained pastor of Church of God in Christ and founder of Harvest Christian Fellowship. He and his family believe he has the right to worship at home on his private property.

"The only people who came to our home were family and friends," Salman said in a video posted online before he reported to jail this week. "Our home was not open to the public; it was private."

His wife, Suzanne Salman, said her husband's constitutional rights have been violated.

"Christians deserve the right to gather at their homes privately just like every other American has the right to gather for their reasons," she told FoxNews.com.

But the city rejects the idea that Salman is doing time for saving souls.

"The case is about the building that is used for regular assembly does not meet construction and fire code requirements for assembly," Phoenix officials said in a statement.

The outdoor facility where Salman is now being held was incorporated with the county jail in 1993 in order to house a growing number of inmates. Whitehead said the conditions are hellish.

"It's like a Guantanamo facility,"  Whitehead said. "It can get up to 140 degrees out there ... putting someone in Tent City for violating zoning laws is insane."

Salman has done hard time before. The former gang member was arrested for a drive-by shooting as well as being charged with impersonating a police officer. His neighbors say the physically imposing Salman makes them nervous, despite his status as a changed man.

Homeowners Association President Mike Simms told FoxNews.com Salman applied for a permit to build a game room on his property, but installed pew-like seats and a pulpit. Salman has responded by saying "game room" was the best description available for what they were building.

Salman is scheduled to be released Sept. 9, but Whitehead hopes to win an early release for his client. 

 

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