Freedom of Religion

Bible Study Raid a Sign of Overcriminalization

Building codes didn't permit gatherings, so cops intervened - and that's just the tip of the iceberg

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For the residents of Tent City Jail, their time behind bars is an exercise in humiliation: they are forced to dress in pink underwear, they "work seven days a week, are fed only twice a day, get no coffee, no cigarettes, no salt, pepper or ketchup and no organized recreation." They work on chain gangs, and have to pay ten bucks every time they want to see a nurse. This draconian treatment is not reserved for hardened criminals. In fact, most inmates in Tent City are imprisoned for less than a year for minor crimes, or are simply awaiting trial.

It is in this Guantanamo-like facility, surrounded by hardened criminals and subjected to all manners of degradation and hardship that Michael Salman—who was fined more than $12,000 and sentenced to 60 days in jail starting on July 9, 2012, for the so-called "crime" of holding a weekly Bible study in his Phoenix home, allegedly in violation of the city's building codes—is incarcerated.