- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Catholic family is suing the city of East Lansing, Michigan, after their farm was kicked out of the city farmers market for refusing to host same-sex weddings.

Steve Tennes, owner of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom advocacy group in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, claiming his farm has been targeted because of his family’s religious beliefs, the Lansing State Journal reported.

“Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing,” Mr. Tennes said at a press conference Wednesday. “Nor does it have anything to do with the produce that we sell to the people that attend the farmers markets who are from all backgrounds and all beliefs.”

The city says farmers, even those not located within East Lansing, have to agree with its non-discrimination ordinance in order to participate in the market.

“I think it’s a very strong principle that you should not be discriminating against somebody elsewhere and then come here and want to participate in our market,” East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas told a local NBC affiliate.

The situation started in August, when someone inquired on Country Mill’s Facebook page whether they hosted gay weddings at the farm. Mr. Tennes said no, explaining that his Catholic family believes marriage should be between one man and one woman, he told Fox News’ Todd Starnes.

City officials found out about the post and reportedly urged Mr. Tennes to comply with its ordinance. After taking a break from hosting weddings at the farm, Mr. Tennes decided to refuse the order and announced on Facebook that the farm would continue to block same-sex weddings, the State Journal reported. Mr. Tennes was later informed that his farm would not be welcome back for the 2017 season.

“It was brought to our attention that The Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s Civil Rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 Market Vendor Guidelines, as such, The Country Mill’s presence as a vendor is prohibited by the City’s Farmer’s Market Vendor Guidelines,” the city said in a letter to the family, obtained by Fox News.

The city manager said East Lansing recently updated its civil rights ordinance to include discrimination at “all business practices” for the city’s farmers market.

“When [Country Mill] applied, we decided to exclude them from the market based on that,” Mr. Lahanas told the State Journal.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows said the farm’s exclusion is based on the Tennes family’s “business decision” to exclude same-sex weddings.

“This is about them operating a business that discriminates against LGBT individuals and that’s a whole different issue,” Mr. Meadows said.

Mr. Tennes’ lawsuit is asking for damages due to loss of business and demands East Lansing stop its “discriminatory policy,” the State Journal reported.

“All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kate Anderson, Fox News reported. “People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood. If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook — by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people — then no American is free.”

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