A Michigan family farm received a precious bit of good news in his lawsuit against East Lansing, Michigan, a city that banned them from its farmers market for stating that they would not open up their property to same-sex weddings.
Last Wednesday, Judge Paul Maloney ruled that the city ordinance used to ban Steve and Bridget Tennes of Country Mill Farms from vending at the local market was unconstitutional at the time of its adoption.
“All Americans should be free to live and speak according to their deeply held religious beliefs without fear of government punishment,” said Kate Anderson, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the Tennes. “Today the court correctly recognized that East Lansing’s ordinance was unconstitutionally vague.”
Anderson also pointed to the fact that East Lansing “has consistently used this vagueness to act with hostility towards Steve and Bridget Tennes of Country Mill Farms because city officials simply don’t like their Catholic convictions about marriage.”
“In a public debate, a city council member even called Steve’s Catholic beliefs ‘bigot[ed],’ ‘ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful,'” she added. “We are looking forward to stopping this discrimination against Country Mill Farms at trial.”
“When someone posted on Country Mill Farms’ Facebook page, asking whether they would host a same-sex wedding, the Tennes family gave an honest answer,” ADF says of the events that brought about the case. “As Catholics, the Tennes family believes what the Bible says about marriage: that it is between one man and one woman. The Tennes family stated their beliefs and indicated that they would refer these events to a nearby farm.”
“They never thought that a city 22 miles away would punish them for simply stating their beliefs,” ADF continues. “But that’s exactly what happened.”
In his ruling, Judge Maloney noted Stephen Tennes posted his religious beliefs about marriage on Country Mill Farms’ Facebook page.
“In addition to discussing his religious beliefs, Tennes also stated that he would no longer rent his farm for weddings ceremonies (sic) that would violate his religious beliefs. Because of the Facebook post, the city of East Lansing denied Country Mill Farms’ vendor application for the city’s farmers market. Tennes and Country Mill Farms sued. For their motion for summary judgment, Tennes and Country Mill Farms focus almost exclusively on Tennes’ statement concerning his religious beliefs. For the city’s motion … it focuses almost exclusively on Tennes’ statement that he would not rent his property for same-sex weddings,” the judge explained.
John Bursch, ADF’s VP for appellate advocacy, optimistically pointed to precedents set by previous cases in which courts “have rightfully and repeatedly rejected this type of religious hostility, as recently as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.”
“That is why we are asking the district court to issue an order that permanently prevents East Lansing from unconstitutionally targeting Steve on the basis of his beliefs,” Bursch continued. “The city’s response to Steve’s beliefs reeks of anti-religious discrimination.”
Bursch outlined the clear anti-Christian discrimination demonstrated by East Lansing officials:
In a public debate, a city council member said Tennes’ Catholic beliefs are ‘ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful things.’ In addition, the mayor of East Lansing criticized Tennes for translating his ‘Catholic view on marriage’ into a business practice, suggesting that Tennes was only doing it for the money. Other city officials said that his marriage beliefs were ‘the same’ as those defending post-slavery racism in the Jim Crow South. The city’s public position was that it would expel Country Mill Farms until it successfully changed the Catholic beliefs of Tennes and his family.
In reality, Tennes’ religious beliefs “motivate him to donate thousands of pounds of apples to local food banks, to share and live out his faith before customers and visitors, and to fight government bureaucrats for the right to build housing for migrant workers.
“Those same beliefs compel Tennes and his employees to treat every single customer with dignity and respect,” Bursch explained. “The city’s condemnation of that same faith – not to mention the city’s attempts to change Steve’s beliefs regarding marriage – violate the U.S. Constitution, the most basic notions of religious freedom, and simple common decency.”
Amen!! I long for the day when this nation will wake up and realize that the First Amendment guarantees our right to speak freely, to believe freely, and to conduct our lives in accordance with our deepest, God-given convictions without the State attempting to compel us to do otherwise.
Praise God for the diligent work of ADF bringing us ever closer to that glorious day.
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