After reading Mr. Whitehead’s column purporting what he believed to be the unconstitutional incarceration of an Arizona man for simply exercising his religious beliefs by holding a weekly prayer meeting in his home, I was outraged (“Are we all criminals now?” That Rutherford Guy, Aug. 11-12). Michael Salman, Mr. Whitehead’s story goes, is serving a 60-day sentence in a “Guantanamo-like” facility where the temperatures reach 145 degrees, for nothing more than violating city building codes. Outrageous, right? Wrong. What Mr. Whitehead, a skilled lawyer, didn’t want his readers to know is that Mr. Salman had transformed his home into a born-again Christian church, by illegally building an extension to his single family home and furnishing it with a lectern, pews, tithing boxes, and 80 congregants, many of whom using his front lawn as a parking lot. When his neighbors objected, Mr. Salman turned the other cheek and ignored them. That’s when the city took up the case.
To make a long story short, Mr. Salman, a former gang member who did time for assault, had applied for an extension to his home stating he was building a game room, this despite having filed for IRS tax exempt status for his new “church.” Thou shall not lie, notwithstanding, and 96 fire code violations later, Mr. Salman landed himself in court where a judge ruled the good reverend and his church were in violation of the city’s zoning code.
The neighborhood rejoiced at the news of his conviction, but their joy was short lived because Mr. Salman, despite a court order, continued holding services, even collecting contributions from his growing congregation. And that’s how Mr. Salman found himself a guest in Sheriff Arpaio’s “Tent City” jail, where, mind you, it’s never been 145 degrees, despite Mr. Whitehead’s tall tale, which if it were, would beat out El Azizia, Libya, the current record holder for highest temperature ever recorded on Sept. 13, 1922, at 136 degrees.
John Whitehead’s acts of omission in telling this story were contemptible, and should result in the suspension of his column by this paper, or at the very least, be retitled for what it is, a work of fiction.