For seven years, Country Mill Farms set up a booth at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market to sell their produce, offering the only stand with organic apples. [Country Mill Farms grows all sorts of crops at the Country Mill Farm – organic apples, blueberries, pumpkins, sweet corn.]
But this year, Country Mill was not invited back. And it’s not because organic produce is going out of style.
The reason? They chose to communicate their religious viewpoint on marriage on their Facebook page – a belief that is apparently unwelcome in East Lansing. Today, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on Country Mill’s behalf.
Country Mill Farms, owned by Steve Tennes, is a second-generation family business that grows apples, blueberries, peaches, cherries, sweet corn, and pumpkins. They host a number of community events, including some Michigan fall favorites – a corn maze, a petting zoo, apple picking, and hay rides.
As Catholics, the Tennes family believes that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman. Last August, the family communicated these beliefs on their Country Mill Farms Facebook page. But when East Lansing officials saw the statement, the city began taking steps to expel Country Mill Farms from the East Lansing Farmer’s Market.
So, a city official called Country Mill Farms and pressured the farm to not return to the Farmer’s Market. The city official told the Tennes family that the City no longer wanted them at the Farmer’s Market, since the City thought hecklers might protest the Tennes’ religious views at the Market if Country Mill Farms continued to attend.
Country Mill Farms decided to participate in the Market anyway, just as it had year after year. No protestors greeted them. No disruptions happened.
That did not change East Lansing’s position. Absent legal authority to regulate the Tennes’ speech and beliefs, East Lansing adopted a new policy for 2017 Market Vendors specifically designed to give the City a basis to exclude Country Mill Farms. Under the new policy, all vendors must comply with East Lansing’s nondiscrimination laws not just while they are at the Farmer’s Market but in all of their general business practices. That includes all vendors’ speech and activities on their own farms outside of East Lansing.
East Lansing’s nondiscrimination laws include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. And the City interprets the laws to ban statements, like Country Mill Farms’, that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman….
(Read it all: ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM)