The Other First Amendment Attack – Bible Studies

My Dad always told me everything is legal as long as you pay for it. Meaning of course, once you’ve paid for a permit you’re exempt from laws those without a permit are bound to. Over the past few years, there have been numerous incidents of local governments harassing Bible study leaders who dare to host regular Bible studies in their homes. 

The story of Michael Salmon, an Arizona pastor who battled Phoenix authorities for years over his right to hold a Bible study in his home, started making its way around the blogs again. Salmon served with the harshest sentence, was jailed, fined and placed on probation because he refused to obtain what Phoenix determined were the appropriate permits.  He believed being required to obtain permits to exercise first amendment freedoms peaceably was unconstitutional.   

Enter revelation of the IRS targeting Tea Party and Constitution-based groups strictly for their ideology. While refreshing my memory on the specifics of the Salmon case, I decided to do a broader search of Bible studies that have been targeted for not obtaining proper licenses, permits, etc. The more prominant cases are as follows:

  • 2009, San Diego couple told by the county they were not allowed to have people over for a Bible study without spending thousands of dollars to obtain permits.
  • 2010, Southern California city ordered a group of Christian worshippers who meet inside homes to get a permit or shut down.
  • 2011, Also California, “a California family was fined for holding weekly Bible studies in their home, meetings that are allegedly in violation of the city’s zoning regulations.”
  • 2012, Arizona pastor, Michael Salmon’s home raided. He was jailed for 60 days for refusing to obtain permits to host private Bible studies in his home.
  • 2012 “Shane and Marlene Roessiger face a fine of $250 a day from Venice, Florida, after city officials determined that the couple were conducting an unauthorized “house of worship” at their residence because of a Bible study that brings six to ten individuals there each Friday night.”

In some cases, neighbors complained, in others the city acted on their own, but in all cases, local governments were willing to fine and criminalize peacable assembly in private homes and First Amendment expression until they received pushback from either attorneys or institutes that assist in egregious First Amendment breaches like these. 

While local authorities were fining private citizens for hosting Bible studies in the privacy of their own homes, Occupy was taking over public parks and spaces without proper licensure or permit and with the blessing of local authorities. The larger backdrop in this story being ideological persecution by the IRS.  In many of these cases, we’ve ceded our fundamental rights to the government and allowed them to sell them back to us or face prosecution. This is not what America was meant to be.