Catholic farmer speaks out after court rules on farmer’s market ban prompted by marriage views

A federal district court ruled Monday that Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes, who was excluded from the East Lansing farmer’s market, is now free to participate.

The devout Catholic farmer sued the city of East Lansing in 2017 after officials excluded him from the market because he would not host same-sex weddings at his farm — Tennes posted on Facebook that he follows the Catholic Church’s teachings about marriage, including when he hosts and participates in weddings at his family’s farm.

The U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Michigan ruled on Monday that Tennes and his family were improperly “forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified.”

In the ruling, the judge said such a choice violates the plaintiff’s “free exercise rights. The reason is simple: denying a person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens because of her faith discourages religious activity.”

“This was a tough decision we had to make seven years ago when we were faced with the choice of providing for our family like we always had, or walking away from our religious beliefs. And as parents and as veterans, that was a very tough decision to make,” Tennes told Fox News.

“But we’re glad that we were able to go forward with this and the court has come out with a strong ruling that helps not just our family, but really people of all backgrounds and beliefs to realize that the government can’t choose to punish some people just because they don’t like their beliefs,” he added.

Alliance Defending Freedom represented Tennes and Country Mill Farms, which is a 120-acre, second-generation family farm in Charlotte, Michigan.

“Steve and his family-run Country Mill Farms happily serve all customers as a valued vendor at East Lansing’s farmer’s market, and he’s grateful he can continue his longtime partnership with the city and its residents,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, who argued before the court in July 2021 on behalf of Tennes and his farm. “The district court’s decision rightly protects Steve’s freedom to operate his business according to his convictions. Country Mill has continued to participate in the farmer’s market without issue during this litigation.”


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