Judge Suspends City’s Ban of Farmers Over Their Marriage Views

The family can sell their produce at a farmers market while their case progresses.

Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan, is where Steve and Bridget Tennes live and raise their five children.

By Kelsey Harkness Published on September 15, 2017

A federal judge ruled Friday that the Michigan farmers, who were banned from selling their produce at a farmers market on public property because of their religious beliefs about marriage, may resume selling their goods there as early as Sunday while their case proceeds.

The decision provides much-needed relief to Steve and Bridget Tennes, owners of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan. East Lansing city officials had banned the Tennes family from selling at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market over a Facebook post addressing the farm’s policy on hosting same-sex weddings.

“As the court found, East Lansing officials changed their market policy to shut out Steve because they don’t like his Catholic beliefs regarding marriage,” Kate Anderson, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom who is representing the Tenneses, told The Daily Signal in an email.

“The court was right to issue this order, which will allow Steve to return to the 2017 farmers market while his case moves forward,” Anderson wrote.

The Tenneses told The Daily Signal in an interview earlier this week that the farmers market in East Lansing is the largest market where they sell.

“Since June 1, we’ve already missed three and a half months of being able to attend East Lansing Farmer’s Market, where we’ve served everyone for the last seven years,” Steve Tennes said by phone Wednesday.

“Now we only have about six weeks left of the market to be able to sell, and the … East Lansing Farmer’s Market was the largest farmers market [where] our family sold organic apples and cider.”

In May, the Tenneses filed a federal lawsuit against East Lansing over the decision to ban them from selling produce at the city’s farmers market, even though their farm is 22 miles outside the city in a different jurisdiction.

“Due to our religious beliefs, we do not participate in the celebration of a same-sex union,” they wrote in part on Facebook in August 2016, in response to a question about the family farm’s services as a wedding venue.

 

The Tenneses, who are Catholic, say they have never before faced a discrimination complaint of any kind.

The city responded to the couple’s lawsuit by filing a motion to dismiss the case. Country Mill Farms sought an injunction allowing the Tenneses to return to the market while the case proceeds.

Both motions were heard for an hour Wednesday before District Court Judge Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In his decision issued Friday, Maloney did not address the city’s motion to dismiss.

His decision to grant the Tenneses the temporary injunction is good news for the family, although their legal fight is far from over. Maloney has yet to rule on the merits of their case.

In the meantime, lawyers for Country Mill Farms are taking the ruling as a positive sign for the family.

“Just like all Americans, a farmer should be free to live and speak according to his deeply held religious beliefs without fear of government punishment,” Anderson said.

 

 

Kelsey Harkness is a senior news producer at The Daily Signal. Send an email to Kelsey.

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  • Elizabeth Litts

    Praise God! I am so glad that we are winning! If they have anymore problems like this they should open a store on their own propetry.

    • Dear Elizabeth:

      “If they have anymore problems like this they should open a store on their own propetry.”

      You might want to rethink that one. If Christians allow themselves to be excluded from public facilities, we are going to be locked up in little ghettos where we won’t be able to have any influence on society. Not to mention that expecting customers to drive 22 miles to their farm probably wouldn’t be a good marketing strategy.

      Note that the apostle Paul didn’t go into hiding when he met fierce opposition. He kept going in spite of “troubles, hardships and distresses … beatings, imprisonments and riots.” I’m glad he wasn’t a quitter.

      • Howard

        Opening a store on their own property is not exactly the same thing as “quitting”, but there is a biblical base even for “quitting”, at least in some cases. For example, few if any Christians were killed in the fall of Jerusalem specifically because they heeded the prophecy that told them, “And when you shall see the abomination of desolation, standing where it ought not: he that readeth let him understand: then let them that are in Judea, flee unto the mountains.” Likewise, Christ Himself tells us, “And when they shall persecute you in this city, flee into another. Amen I say to you, you shall not finish all the cities of Israel, till the Son of man come.” The point is not that either of these applies exactly to the Tenneses, but that sometimes “quitting” is the right thing to do.

        And from a secular point of view, why should they travel to a hostile city in order to support the business of that city and pay them taxes? If they are able to make a go of it without East Lansing, they should. If the Tenneses were set up for online sales (which does not seem to be the case), they would seem to have a ready market and better publicity than they could possibly buy.

        • melvin boyce

          and if the area they live in tells them they can not set up a store on their property, what, keep running . where can they run to in a evil America if we all allow America to become evil.

          • Howard

            You appear to take offense at the words of Christ. That’s not a surprise. Many who heard Him took offense, too.

  • NellieIrene

    These should be easy cases to decide in a country with a first amendment like ours. But we muddied the waters when states started expanding their civil rights laws to allow for sexual orientation. It will continue until we start lobbying to roll that idiocy back. THAT is what needs to be challenged. The expansion of those laws is what put religious freedom and Christian business owners on a collision course with the leftist agenda.

  • suzsez

    Once this case shakes out, this couple ought to be be entitled to damages, lost earnings +interest, from the city of East Lansing. East Lansing clearly acted maliciously.

  • Rclifton

    I’m sure that if they were moslim and openly opposed gay marriage East Lansing would welcome them with open arms.
    Hypocrisy …your stench is nauseating.

  • cestusdei

    The voters of East Lancing should know they are paying for this travesty. I guess we do have a theocracy of the Left.

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