A family farm is waiting to receive a ruling in their lawsuit against the city of East Lansing, Michigan, after they were banned from a city-run market for refusing to allow same-sex weddings on their property.
Fox News reported that Country Mill Farms — operated by Stephen and Bridget Tennes – began their legal battle in 2016 when the couple said on Facebook that they opposed same-sex weddings for religious reasons. They temporarily stopped hosting weddings on their property after a backlash to the post.
In December 2016, the family announced on Facebook that it would start holding weddings again – but not for same-sex couples.
“The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs,” the farm said at the time. “For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience.”
The City of East Lansing then banned Country Mill from its farmer’s market, citing a new policy requiring all vendors to be in line with the city’s non-discrimination policy in their business operations.
The family sued, and the case was taken up by Alliance Defending Freedom, which has experience in cases such as this.
“If a city can target and punish a farmer for his religious beliefs on marriage, and do the things that they did and get away with that kind of authority over somebody’s religious beliefs… they really have the power to try to impact everybody’s religious beliefs,” ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson told Fox News.
The lawsuit received a bench trial last week and is awaiting a ruling from a judge. In the farm’s favor are two Supreme Court rulings that were decided since the family’s troubles began, although those decisions may not help in this case.
From Fox News:
“Just like Catholic Social Services in the Supreme Court’s recent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia decision, Steve Tennes seeks to operate his family farm, Country Mill, consistent with the tenets of his Catholic faith but ‘does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,'” the trial brief for Country Mill says. “Yet City officials in East Lansing dislike Tennes’s religious beliefs, speech, and practice. So, the City created a policy to ban Tennes—and only him—from its Farmer’s Market.”
East Lansing, however, argues that Fulton has one major difference from the case at hand – the Catholic foster agency in that case was a nonprofit with a religious mission. Country Mil Farms, the city says, “is a privately held business enterprise that operates for profit and, as this Court has stated ‘is not a religious institution.'”
The city also points out that Masterpiece Cakeshop – in which a Colorado baker won after being sued for not making a cake for a gay wedding – was decided on narrow grounds due to the outright hostility the civil rights commission in Colorado expressed toward Christianity. There was no such hostility in this case, it said.
Country Mill’s attorneys, however, point to a statement from East Lansing Mayor Ruth Beier, in which she called the family “bigots.”
“We don’t doubt that you’re allowed to be a bigot… You can say it on Facebook, you can say ridiculous, horrible, hateful things,” Beier reportedly said. “What we said is if you actually do discriminate in your business by not allowing same-sex couples to marry on your farm, then we don’t want you in East Lansing.”
A George W. Bush-appointed judge will be ruling on the case.