The progressive officials of East Lansing, Michigan, banned a local farmer from selling his crop at market because of his views on marriage.
Steve Tennes, owner of The Country Mill in the nearby town of Charlotte, has for years sold fruit at the East Lansing Farmers Market twenty miles away. But because he refused to host a lesbian wedding on his farm three years ago, the city is discriminating against his religious beliefs.
Forbes contributor George Leef writes:
The buying and selling of produce used to be a matter of pure commerce, untainted by politics, but now East Lansing officials have banned Tennes from their market because he did something unpardonable—he declined to do a same-sex wedding on his property (which isn’t even in the same county as East Lansing). Once that came to light, city officials decided to strike back at him through their regulatory powers.
Here’s how this story unfolded.
In 2014, a gay couple wanted an orchard wedding at The Country Mill, which is something Tennes offers. But he turned these two women down because of his religious belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. He suggested that they try another farm in the area and the two were subsequently married in 2015. The following year, however, one of the two women wrote a Facebook post in which she urged consumers not to do business with Country Mill due to the owner’s discrimination against gay couples.
As Leef noted, this is a perfectly acceptable reaction, as people have the personal freedom to engage in business, or not, based on political or religious reasons. However, East Lansing officials trampled on Tennes’s rights after he wrote on Facebook, “It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment right to express and act upon its beliefs. 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.”
“We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting weddings at our family farm,” Tennes added.
But tolerance is not what they received from the city. Mayor Mark Meadows said, “This is about them operating a business that discriminates against LGBT individuals and that’s a whole different issue.”
So, in response, the city banned Tennes from participating in the farmers market.
“But what does one of their business decisions on their farm outside the jurisdiction of East Lansing have to do with whether the Tennes family is allowed to sell fruit in the farmers market?” asked Leef. “Whatever regulations may apply to vendors in the market should pertain to quality and health, not to the political, religious, or other beliefs of the people selling the produce.”
“The most worrisome aspect of this case is that it shows how easy it is for an official to abuse his position of public authority to pursue an ideological vendetta,” Leef added.
The Tennes family has brought suit against East Lansing for discriminating against their religious beliefs and for violating Michigan law which prevents state government from applying regulation outside their own jurisdiction. The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Tennes.