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

KELSEY HARKNESS, HERITAGE FOUNDATION

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.


This article appeared first in The Daily Signal, a project of the Heritage Foundation. Used with permission. Photo credit: 


Kelsey Harkness is a senior news producer at The Daily Signal.