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East Lansing Punishes Farm Owners Outside The City For Their Beliefs.

Steve Tennes owns a farm that is 22 miles outside of of East Lansing, Michigan. Since 2010, Tennes has been a staple at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, operating without a complaint. In fact, Tennes’ reputation, goods and service was so good that year after year he was invited back to the market.

In August of 2016, Tennes posted on Facebook his Catholic based beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman and that he would not support or attend a gay marriage held on his farm. (This was prior to the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.) The post had nothing to do with East Lansing or the Farmers’ Market.

When East Lansing officials saw the post they demanded that Tennes leave the market even though he had a contract for two more months and had not broken any laws in East Lansing or elsewhere. All Tennes had done was issue a statement about his beliefs.

When the East Lansing officials discovered that they could not force him out, they passed a new ordinance saying that venders – even those who are based outside of East Lansing – must comply with a Civil Rights Ordinance within the City. In other words, East Lansing said “we are extending our laws and beliefs outside of the City.”

It should be remembered that Tennes had never now sold or denied a sale to anyone in the Farmers’ Market.

Once the Supreme Court decision came down legalizing gay marriage, Tennes stuck to his principles and declared that no marriages would be performed on his farm.

At no point in time can anyone point to or cite where Tennes ever broke the law in discriminating against anyone.

In 2017, Tennes applied for his space at the market was was told he was no longer welcome. The City had pulled is “favored vendor” status, despite in the past praising his produce and his participation at the market.

Tennes then applied for a space in the market without the “favored vendor” status and had his application pulled by the City officials, “reviewed” separately and ultimately denied.

Tennes is being punished by the City for his beliefs.

Even if you think Tennes is a religious bigot or a hateful individual, he is protected by law and the Constitution for having those views. A case can be made that the City is illegally discriminating against him not for his actions, but his deeply held religious views.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has taken on the case and has launched a lawsuit claiming the City of East Lansing has violated Tennes’ rights under the First and the Fourteenth Amendment.

INTRODUCTION

1. This case is about a Policy specifically created by the City of East Lansing to exclude a farmer whose family farm is twenty-two miles outside the City from participating in its city-run farmers market solely because the City dislikes the farmer’s profession of his religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook.

2. This targeted Policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution as well as state law that prohibits Michigan cities from regulating activities outside city boundaries.

3. The farm targeted by the City is Country Mill Farms, which is owned by Steve Tennes.

4. Country Mill has participated in the East Lansing Farmer’s Market since 2010 – the last six years as an “Invitational Vendor” invited by the City because Country Mill was an exceptional vendor year after year.

(more)

It seems to us that Tennes is being discriminated against for his beliefs. The people in the City Hall of East Lansing don’t like what he believes, and so they want him out of their city.

The problem with that is the same problem that should chill everyone to the bone: when a City decides what is right and wrong “thinking,” they exclude ideas from the marketplace which is against the First Amendment which is there to protect ideas – even and maybe even especially ideas that are unpopular.

These types of cases need to be fought and won. Even if you don’t agree with Tennes and his views, at some point in time there are going to be government officials that disagree with you and seek to punish you for what you think and believe.



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