In a win for Steve and Bridget Tannes’ First Amendment freedoms, exactly a week ago, a federal judge issued an order allowing Country Mill Farms to return to the East Lansing Farmer’s Market while their civil lawsuit proceeds against East Lansing.
Back in June, California Family Council reported on the case in which the Country Mill Farms family and staff were banned from a farmers market in East Lansing.
The reason for banishment?
We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, more background. Steve and Bridget Tannes live and operate a 120 acre farm in Charlotte, Michigan. For years, they has made it a practice to take their fruit crops to a farmers market in East Lansing, a town about twenty miles away. Steve and Bridget would also use the farm as a wedding venue.
In 2014, Steve was approached by a gay couple about the possibility of doing their wedding on his property. Steve explained that he wasn’t comfortable with that because of his religious beliefs. Steve recommended that they try another farm in the area. They did, and the couple’s wedding ceremony was held in 2015. However, one of the women later wrote a Facebook post loudly denouncing Steve for denying them a wedding ceremony at his orchard.
Steve responded to her denunciation in a statement of his own, according to the Daily Signal:
“The Country Mill family and its staff have and will continue to participate in hosting the ceremonies held at our orchard. It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment right to express and act upon its beliefs. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience….We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting weddings at our family farm.”
Apparently, the situation went somewhat viral, and when East Lansing city officials heard about it, they decided to use government authority to punish the Tannes for their personal opinions and sincerely held religious beliefs. The method? They decided to ban the Tannes fom selling their produce at the East Lansing farmer’s market. This was a big blow to the Tannes because they had they had spent six years developing a successful network at the market to which they would sell their produce.
The fact that the Tannes are now allowed to sell their produce at the East Lansing farmer’s market is great news. It’s sad that they were even banned in the first place, because neither one of them broke the law or declined to serve anyone at the farmer’s market.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal aid organization, is representing the Tenneses in a civil lawsuit to restore Steve’s constitutionally protected rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and equal protection.
Alliance Defending Freedom notes:
Steve and his wife Bridget are homegrown heroes. Steve grew up at Country Mill in Charlotte, about 20 miles from Lansing, Michigan’s capital. And Bridget hails from Nebraska. Steve is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and Bridget is an Army veteran. They met in ROTC when she was studying to become a nurse. After their military tours, Steve and Bridget decided to move back to Steve’s childhood home to take over operation of his family’s farm, Country Mill, where they are now raising their own five children.
Their spirit of service did not end when they completed their military service. Like all practicing Christians, loving their neighbors is how they love the Lord. That is reflected in the way the Tenneses operate their farm.
The Tennes also actively support the Farmer Veteran Coalition, an organization which helps veterans become farmers after the conclusion of their military service.
If a city government can decide to actively discriminate against small, honest, hardworking farmers, and get away with it, they will do it to anyone. No American is safe.