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Steve Tennes. Photo: ADF.

Judge rules that farmers market can’t ban Christian farmer

A federal judge in Michigan ruled this week that the city of East Lansing can’t ban a local business owner from taking part in a farmers market because he refuses for religious reasons to host same-sex weddings on his property.

“The city has not established that the decision to deny Country Mill Farms a vendor license is narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest,” U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney wrote in his opinion. “Defendant has not offered any particular justification for enforcing the nondiscrimination ordinance against plaintiffs. Nor has defendant explained why it declines to offer plaintiffs an exemption from the nondiscrimination ordinance when the ordinance provides objective and discretionary exemptions to other business entities.”

Owner Stephen Tennes are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that has successfully argued several religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“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,” senior counsel Kate Anderson said. “The district court’s decision rightly protects Steve’s freedom to operate his business according to his convictions.”

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In August 2016, Tennes posted a message on Facebook explaining that his business refused to host same-sex wedding ceremonies on its property on religious grounds. East Lansing officials became aware of Tennes’ position and, in January 2017, rejected an application to participate in the East Lansing Farmer’s Market that year. Tennes and CMF filed suit in May 2017 against the city, arguing that officials violated the First Amendment by engaging in religious discrimination against the farmer.

City officials argue that they are justified in denying the application because Country Mill Farms allegedly violated a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice

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