The City of East Lansing (City) has agreed to pay $825,000 for violating the religious liberty of Michigan farmer Steve Tennes, the owner of Country Mills Farms, an orchard and wedding venue in east Michigan.
Tennes had participated in the City’s farmer’s market held weekly in East Lansing from 2010 to 2016 without incident.
But in 2016, Tennes responded to question about the wedding venue on the farm’s Facebook page. He said that he affirms the Catholic Church’s teaching about marriage, and that he would only rent the venue for marriages between one man and one woman.
After City officials saw the post, they began pressuring Steve to voluntarily end his participation in the farmer’s market, even though his farm and wedding venue were located 20 miles outside of the City’s limits. He declined to do so.
At the end of 2016, Tennes posted on his farm’s Facebook page that while he gladly sells anyone produce from his orchard – regardless of their sexual orientation – he would not rent his wedding venue for any ceremony other than a marriage between one man and one woman. Steve’s religious beliefs demanded that of him.
As a result, the City amended its ordinance specifically to exclude Tennes from doing business at the farmer’s market. City officials publicly ridiculed the family’s Catholic beliefs about marriage and said the family must change their deeply held religious convictions.
The City then denied Tennes a farmer’s market permit for 2017.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Tennes sued the City, resulting in the new settlement, after a court ruled in Tennes’ favor.
The City has agreed to protect the Tennes family’s constitutional right conduct business according to their religious beliefs, respect their right to participate in the farmer’s market, and to pay $825,000 ($41,199 in damages and $783,801 in attorneys’ fees).
“Steve and his family-run farm happily serve all customers as a valued vendor at East Lansing’s farmer’s market. The court was right to agree that the First Amendment protects Steve, like every other small business owner, to operate his business according to his faith and convictions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, adding,
We’re pleased to favorably settle this lawsuit on behalf of Steve so he and his family can continue doing what Country Mill does best, as expressed in its mission statement: “glorifying God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families.”
It’s frightening when government officials – whether at the local, state or national level – attempt to impose a leftist orthodoxy upon people of faith.
Thankfully, we live in a country with inalienable rights guaranteed to us in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment for the Constitution states that the government may not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion. When governments – like the city of East Lansing – attempt to do just that, they deserve to lose in court.
The case is Country Mill Farms, LLC v. City of East Lansing.
Related articles and resources:
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom.