Mich. Farmer Fights Back Against East Lansing for Violating His Religious Freedom

'If you have a government that can go after somebody because they don’t agree with his beliefs, that is a problem for everybody'

Steve Tennes and wife Bridget / Youtube

A Michigan farmer is challenging city officials after he was banned from a farmer's market following a Facebook post in which he affirmed the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage.

Steve Tennes, who runs Country Mill Farms, is challenging the city of East Lansing and seeking a permanent order in federal court on Friday that would allow him to continue participating at the city's farmer's market, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.

City officials targeted Tennes after seeing a Facebook post from 2016, in which he responded to a question about whether his family would use Country Mill Farms to host a same-sex wedding. Steve said they would not host a same-sex wedding because his family believes marriage is between one man and one woman, however he and his family always served everyone at their farm and at the market.

"Starting in August 2010, our family farm had taken our organic apples, peaches, and blueberries 22 miles away from our farm into the city of East Lansing where we had served everyone of all backgrounds for seven years," Tennes told the Washington Free Beacon, adding that the city had invited his family back every year as a "preferred vendor."

After seeing his post, a city council member denounced Tennes's Catholic beliefs in a public debate, calling them "ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful things." The mayor of East Lansing claimed Tennes was translating his "Catholic view on marriage" into a business practice and was only doing it for money. Other city officials argued his views on marriage reflected those defending racism in the Jim Crow era.

The city then added a new rule to its vendor market guidelines designed to deny access to the Tennes family, despite admitting that the family had always served all customers at their farm and at the market. In 2017, a judge issued a temporary order allowing Steve to return to the market while the case was moving forward. Tennes and his attorneys asked for a permanent order to resolve the case at a hearing on Friday.

Although it is unclear when a decision will be reached, ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson tells the Free Beacon they are "very hopeful."

"This is something that impacts not only Steve and his Catholic beliefs, but really if you have a government that can go after somebody because they don’t agree with his beliefs, that is a problem for everybody," Anderson said.

Tennes said the city's move against his family has had a negative impact on his farm.

"It’s affected us in many ways, not only the financial damages from the time we did miss on the market before the preliminary injunction was installed, but also from a marketing standpoint and a public relations standpoint," Tennes said.

"We’re hopeful that the judge will be able to make permanent the temporary ruling to allow our family to not only believe, but speak freely about our beliefs without fear of government punishment," he added.