After being banned from the East Lansing Farmer’s Market over his religious views last year, a Christian farmer has been granted a preliminary injunction by a federal judge.
Steve Tennes, a Christian farmer and owner of Country Mill Farms in East Lansing, MI, says he was banned from being a vendor at a market he has been selling at for the past six years due to his religious views. But a Michigan judge saw Tennes’ petition on the case, and made a ruling many were not expecting to hear.
Facebook Inquiry Leads to Being Banned from City Market
It all started back in August 2016 when Steve Tennes received an inquiry about the use of his farm for a homosexual wedding ceremony. According to Tennes’ response on Facebook, he indicated, “Due to our religious beliefs, we do not participate in the celebration of a same-sex union.”
When city officials in East Lansing head about Tennes’ response on social media, he was told not to come to their Farmer’s Market because there may be protests due to his statement. Tennes had been a regular vendor at the market for the past six years, and decided to go to the market as he typically did. Although there were no protests, the city decided to pursue his defiance.
East Lansing officials changed the farmer’s market contract, making it a new requirement that all vendors must follow a “general business practice” that says that they must adhere to the city’s ordinance against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender self-identity, or gender expression. They then used this new ordinance to deny Tennes’s vendor’s permit.
The city actually accused Tennes’ Country Mill of violating the new ordinance and indicated, “The Country Mill has been excluded from the East Lansing Farmer’s Market because the East Lansing Farmer’s Market policy requires that all vendors comply with the City’s Civil Rights ordinances.”
To make matters worse, Mayor Mark Meadows of East Lansing would not back down against the Christian business owner saying, “They can say whatever they want,” said Mayor Meadows, “but their corporation needs to act in a certain way to qualify to sell products at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market on publicly owned land.”
Tennes Sues East Lansing for Discrimination
Tennes decided to sue the city, indicating that he was discriminated against due to his strong religious beliefs.
“True tolerance is a two-way street,” said Tennes. “The government should not eradicate people of faith from the marketplace.”
While waiting for the court date, Tennes petitioned the court to allow him to be a vendor at the market until they could get this settled. The city then tried to dismiss the lawsuit outright, but got a surprise when District Court Judge Paul Maloney granted Tennes’ request to return to the market until the court date.
Due to Judge Maloney granting the preliminary injunction, it is thought that Tennes’ lawsuit against the city will be successful.
“On the evidence before this Court, the City amended its Vendor Guidelines and then used the changes to deny Country Mill’s vendor application,” the court documents read. “There exists a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will be able to prevail on the merits of their claims for speech retaliation and for free exercise of religion.”
According to Kate Anderson of Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the Tennes in this matter, “it’s an excellent recognition of what the Constitution requires.”
“The Constitution ensures everyone the right to speak freely and to make their own decisions about what they believe,” she added.
Back to Work Until Court
Tennes returned to the farmer’s market and will continue to be a vendor there through their season, which ends in November. Although there were a few protestors near his booth, he also sold organic apples and cider to many customers without much issue.
East Lansing city officials indicated they are considering an appeal to block the preliminary injunction. It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this case and how the judge rules in this case of religious discrimination and a business owner’s right to decide who to serve.
~ 1776 Christian