In 2016, a devoutly Catholic couple in East Lansing, Michigan, who are both military veterans and own their own organic farm, were kicked out of the local farmer’s market after they refused to host a same-sex wedding on their farm. In 2017, a court issued a preliminary order to permit Steve and Bridget Tennes, owners of Country Mill Farms, to return to the farmer’s market; on Friday, Steve Tennes will join the Alliance Defending Freedom in federal court to request a permanent order forcing the city of East Lansing to allow them to participate in the farmer’s market.
ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch, former solicitor general of Michigan, asserted, “Courts have rightfully and repeatedly rejected this type of religious hostility, as recently as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. That is why we are asking the district court to issue an order that permanently prevents East Lansing from unconstitutionally targeting Steve on the basis of his beliefs. The city’s response to Steve’s beliefs reeks of anti-religious discrimination.”
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 in favor of Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. ADF represented Phillips; Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case, stated, “Jack serves all customers; he simply declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs. Creative professionals who serve all people should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.”
ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson stated, “All Americans should be free to live and speak according to their deeply held religious beliefs without fear of government punishment. Yet East Lansing officials changed their market policy to shut out Steve Tennes because they don’t like his Catholic beliefs regarding marriage. That unconstitutional discrimination is what led to the court’s temporary order in favor of Steve in 2017.”
The sequence of events went like this: prior to 2016, the Tennes family, which employs a diversified group of people including some who are LGBT, had attended the farmer’s market for seven years. But in 2016, the couple was asked on Facebook if they would host a same-sex wedding. Tennes said on Facebook that he believed in biblical marriage between one man and one woman, precipitating the city’s action. Yet the Tennes farm is 22 miles from East Lansing, outside the city’s boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction.
ADF noted that during a public debate, a city council member said Tennes’ Catholic beliefs were “ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful things.” ADF added that the mayor of East Lansing criticized Tennes for translating his “Catholic view on marriage” into a business practice.
ADF pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Obergefell and again in Masterpiece that the government must respect the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. ADF also noted that only weeks prior to the city’s efforts to ban the Tennes family farm from the farmer’s market, the city publicly praised Country Mill Farms, posting, “We love The Country Mill!” on its farmer’s market Facebook page.