A federal court has heart a case between the owners of a family farm who were kicked out of their local farmer’s market over their beliefs on same-sex marriage and the city that discriminated against them, and now the parties await a decision.
Steve and Bridget Tannes own and operate Country Mill Farms, where they raise their family and exercise their faith freely. This included when they host weddings in their orchards, which they will only do for traditional, opposite-sex marriages.
When Steve shared a post on Facebook in 2016 which stated that he shares the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and believes it can only be between a man and a woman and that their farm would only host weddings for traditional couples.
“The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs,” the post read.
“For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience.”
According to Fox News, the Tannes not only host the weddings, but participate in the planning and execution of the ceremony, even praying for the couple. Steve views the farm’s operation as an extension of his religious life.
“Tennes exercises his Catholic religious beliefs about marriage by hosting and participating in weddings on his farm that bear witness to the truth about the sacred union of marriage,” Country Mill Farm’s trial brief reads. “This religious conduct that flows from his religious belief is constitutionally protected.”
After the Facebook post, East Lansing banned the Tannes from the city’s farmers market by adopting what the Alliance Defending Freedom, the non-profit religious rights law firm representing the Tannes, described as an “unconstitutional policy” that was “adopted specifically” to prevent the Christian couple from selling their produce at the market.
The city contends that Country Mill Farm’s “commercial conduct” is not protected by the First Amendment and that their statements on same-sex marriage are “a general business practice that was in violation of the city’s anti-discrimination policy.”
This past week, the bench trial for the case before a Michigan federal court concluded, and now the Tannes await a ruling.
“Small business owners should be free to live, speak and operate their business consistent with their religious beliefs without fear of government punishment,” ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson told Fox News.
“The city of East Lansing’s attempts to not only damage Steve’s livelihood and reputation, but to change his deeply-held views on marriage, is wrong and violates our most basic constitutional freedoms. While ousting him from the market, city officials publicly ridiculed his faith. One official even called Tennes’ Catholic beliefs ‘bigot[ed],’ ‘ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful.’ We are looking forward to bringing these issues to the court this week.”
“If a city can target and punish a farmer for his religious beliefs on marriage, and do the things that they did and get away with that kind of authority over somebody’s religious beliefs… they really have the power to try to impact everybody’s religious beliefs,” she also said.
Regardless of the decision, the case is likely not going to be over anytime soon and will likely be appealed by whichever party the judge rules against.
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