A Michigan judge has sided with a Catholic farmer who was banned from selling his produce at market after he expressed his religious objections to so-called gay marriage. The conclusion of this 6-year legal battle allows Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms to continue selling at the public market and acknowledges that Tennes was the subject of religious discrimination.
According to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented Tennes, the problems arose when Tennes posted on Facebook about his Catholic beliefs that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Furthermore, Tennes would host wedding events at his farm, but would not do so for homosexual couples.
Taking umbrage at Tenne’s decision to follow his faith, city officials went on to enact a policy that prohibited Country Mill Farms from participating in the city’s farmer’s market. This new policy required farmers to comply with the city’s anti-discrimination laws if they wished to take part in the farmer’s market.
ADF noted that Tennes had never refused to sell his produce to anyone, and in addition, they argued that Country Mill Farms was 22 miles outside of the city’s boundaries and was thus outside of its jurisdiction. ADF wrote:
“Steve and his family-run Country Mill Farms happily serve all customers as a valued vendor at East Lansing’s farmer’s market, and he’s grateful he can continue his longtime partnership with the city and its residents.”
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan found that Tennes and Country Mill Farms “were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified.” The court went on to explain that forcing such a choice infringed upon his “free exercise rights.” It wrote:
“The reason is simple: denying a person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens because of her faith discourages religious activity.”
Alliance Defending Freedom celebrated the decision, writing that Tennes was eager to return to the Farmer’s Market:
“Tennes and Country Mill Farms are grateful for the court’s decision protecting religious liberty,” Anderson continued. “At the same time, they are eager to mend fences with current city officials and get back to doing what Country Mill does best — as expressed in its mission statement: ‘glorifying God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families.’”