ICYMI: Court Rules Market Must Allow Farmer Kicked Out Over Marriage Views

Posted: Sep 19, 2017 8:15 AM

In case you missed it, a federal court ruled last week that the city of East Lansing, Michigan must allow a farmer who was kicked out over his marriage beliefs to return to the 2017 farmer’s market.

After Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms wrote a post on Facebook expressing his traditional views about marriage, city officials gave him the boot citing an anti-discrimination law that covers sexual orientation.

At issue is an unconstitutional, unlawful, and complex policy that city officials adopted specifically to shut out Tennes and Country Mills Farms, his family’s fruit orchard, purely because he posted on Facebook his belief in biblical marriage. The city did this even though Tennes, his family, and the orchard are in Charlotte, 22 miles from East Lansing, well outside the city’s boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction.

After seeing Tennes’ Facebook post from August 2016, city officials took several actions to drive him out of the market. First, they told him they did not want Country Mill Farms at the next scheduled market, and they warned him that protests could occur if his farm continued to participate. Tennes, a military veteran, decided to continue to serve his customers at the market. No one protested. That did not change city officials’ resolve that Tennes could no longer participate in the market due to his statement of his religious beliefs.

For the first time in six years, when applications opened for the 2017 farmer’s market, the city did not invite Tennes to participate in the market. City officials also changed the application process for Country Mill Farms only, removing Tennes’ vendor application from the normal committee review process and reviewing it directly instead. Since Tennes and Country Mill Farms did not violate any law while at the market or in Charlotte, the officials crafted a new vendor policy that extended the city’s Human Relations Ordinance, bypassing jurisdictional limits under Michigan law, to expel Tennes from the market. (Arizona Daily Independent)

“The City of East Lansing must allow Plaintiffs to participate in the East Lansing Farmer’s Market for the remainder of the 2017 season,” the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division, wrote in its order. “On the evidence before this Court, the City amended its Vendor Guidelines and then used the changes to deny Country Mill’s vendor application. There exists a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will be able to prevail on the merits of their claims for speech retaliation and for free exercise of religion.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kate Anderson praised the ruling, saying a “farmer should be free to live and speak according to his deeply held religious beliefs without fear of government punishment.”