(LifeSiteNews) – Catholic farmers can sell their fruits at a local market after a federal judge ordered East Lansing, Michigan to stop discriminating against the family for its opposition to homosexual “marriage.”
Judge Paul Maloney ruled that the city discriminated against Steve and Bridget Tennes of Country Mill Farms (CMF) when it passed a special law that excluded the family from selling at its farmers market.
The couple offered their venue for weddings but told an inquirer in 2016 that they would not let a homosexual couple have a same-sex “wedding” on the property. The farm is located in Charlotte, Michigan, 22 miles from East Lansing.
“The City did not invite CMF because it decided to rent its venue for weddings but would not host same sex weddings,” Judge Maloney wrote.
The city has an ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but the way it was applied violated the First Amendment rights of the family farmers.
The manager of the farmer’s market could have granted an exception to the Tennes family based on its religious beliefs, the judge wrote. It chose not to do so, meaning its law “is not generally applicable because it permits secular conduct through exemptions while prohibiting the same conduct motivated by religious belief.”
The city failed to establish that its regulations were “narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest.”
“The City’s decision to exclude Country Mill Farms from the 2017 East Lansing Farmer’s Market constituted a burden on Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs,” the judge concluded. “Plaintiffs were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the farm, praised the judge’s ruling.
“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,” ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson stated.
“The district court’s decision rightly protects Steve’s freedom to operate his business according to his convictions,” Anderson stated. “Country Mill has continued to participate in the farmer’s market without issue during this litigation.”
“Tennes and Country Mill Farms are grateful for the court’s decision protecting religious liberty,” Anderson added. “At the same time, they are eager to mend fences with current city officials and get back to doing what Country Mill does best — as expressed in its mission statement: ‘glorifying God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families.’”
The case drew national attention for another reason, beyond its significance in the ongoing conflict between religious liberty and the LGBT agenda.
In 2019, President Donald Trump nominated East Lansing attorney Michael Bogren to a federal judgeship. Bogren withdrew from consideration after U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican ally of President Trump, criticized Bogren’s defense of religious discrimination.
LifeSiteNews reported in 2019:
Representing the city’s efforts to keep the family out, Bogren wrote a brief in 2017 arguing that “discriminatory conduct” being “based on sincerely held religious beliefs does not insulate that conduct from anti-discrimination laws,” noting that members of the Nation of Islam or Ku Klux Klan who opposed interracial marriage “would not be able to … avoid the anti-discrimination provisions of federal, state and local laws that apply to public accommodations if interracial couples were refused service.”
The message isn’t Catholics need not apply,” but that “discriminators need not apply,” he also said at the time. “The fact that the plaintiff says, ‘My religion compels me,’ does not protect him. There’s a difference between belief and act.” During his questioning this week, Hawley argued that Bogren’s comparison demonstrated “impermissible hostility” toward religious beliefs.
“You think those things are equivalent,” Senator Hawley said at the time. “You think that the Catholic family’s pointing out the teachings of their church is equivalent to a KKK member invoking Christianity […] The Masterpiece Cakeshop case turned on these issues, it turned on this kind of animus. The fact that you stand by these comments is extraordinary to me.”