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Steve and Bridget Tennes and their family
Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

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Victory: Judge allows Christian farmers banned from city market to return for now

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

EAST LANSING, Michigan, September 19, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to a Christian farmer banned from the East Lansing Farmer's Market over his religious views.

The city, home of Michigan State University, passed a special law earlier this year specifically to oust Steve and Bridget Tennes, owners of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte.   

“As the court found, East Lansing officials changed their market policy to shut out Steve because they don’t like his Catholic beliefs regarding marriage,” Alliance Defending Freedom's Kate Anderson, who is representing the Tennes, said.

In August 2016, Steve Tennes answered a Facebook inquiry about his 120-acre farm hosting a homosexual wedding. “Due to our religious beliefs, we do not participate in the celebration of a same-sex union,” Tennes responded on Facebook.

When East Lansing officials got wind of Tennes' Facebook response, they told him not to come to their Farmer's Market because there may be protests. Tennes went anyway and there were no protests. So the city took it to the next level.

City officials changed the farmers market contract, adding a requirement that vendors' "general business practice" obey the city's pro-homosexual ordinance against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender self-identity, and gender expression.  

With the excluding addition in place, the city denied Tennes a vendor's permit in March, even though Tennes had been a fixture at the farmer's market for six years.

After passing the ordinance change, the city then accused Tennes' Country Mill of violating it. “The Country Mill has been excluded from the East Lansing Farmer’s Market because the East Lansing Farmer’s Market policy requires that all vendors comply with the City’s Civil Rights ordinances.”

Tennes sued the city in May, saying he was discriminated against because of his sincerely held religious beliefs. “True tolerance is a two-way street,” Tennes said. “The government should not eradicate people of faith from the marketplace.”

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows stood his ground against the Catholic farmer, saying, “They can say whatever they want, but their corporation needs to act in a certain way to qualify to sell products at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market on publicly owned land.”

Tennes petitioned to be allowed back at the farmer’s market while his court case proceeds. “Since June 1, we’ve already missed 3 1/2 months of being able to attend East Lansing Farmer’s Market, where we’ve served everyone for the last seven years,” Steve Tennes said. “Now we only have about six weeks left of the market to be able to sell."

The city tried to dismiss Tennes' lawsuit outright, but late last week District Court Judge Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo granted Tennes' request to be allowed back at the farmer's market while Tennes’ lawsuit progresses.

In granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Maloney predicted that Tennes' lawsuit would prevail. “On the evidence before this Court, the City amended its Vendor Guidelines and then used the changes to deny Country Mill’s vendor application. There exists a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will be able to prevail on the merits of their claims for speech retaliation and for free exercise of religion."

“It’s an excellent recognition of what the Constitution requires," Anderson commented.  "The Constitution ensures everyone the right to speak freely and to make their own decisions about what they believe."

Maloney explained that the city took an “adverse action” directly because of Tennes’ religious views. "Considering the totality of the circumstances, a factfinder could infer a connection between the plaintiffs' expressions about their religious beliefs on Facebook and the city's ultimate decision to deny Country Mill's vendor application."

On Sunday, Tennes returned to the farmer's market, which runs through October.  Besides many customers purchasing his organic apples and cider, a few homosexuals stood next to Tennes' booth to protest.

ABC-TV affiliate WZZM talked with some of the shoppers and some of the protesters at Tennes' booth.  

David and Jane Lopez drove all the way from the Detroit area to show their support.  “We just didn’t want him to have a bad experience on his first day back,” David said.

Scott Alley also came to show his support. “We felt for their situation and came out to support them,” he said. “We wanted to make sure First Amendment rights were protected.”

Lesbian Heather Marlow came with her partner and three-year-old daughter. She said Tennes' views were intolerant and should not be supported.

Nadia Sellers agreed, saying Tennes should not be allowed to sell his apples. “I don’t think they should be here,” she said. “I don’t think they represent our community. It has no place in America, and it definitely has no place in a small community.”

City officials said they are considering an appeal to block the preliminary injunction.

Read the entire judge's opinion here.

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