EAST LANSING, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The city of East Lansing is being accused of discriminating against a Catholic farmer because he stood up for the Catholic Church's teaching against so-called gay marriage.
Steve Tennes, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and owner of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan, is suing the city of East Lansing for keeping him out of the 2017 season farmers market. The lawsuit alleges the city is attempting to suppress his right to free speech and is operating outside its jurisdiction since the farm is 22 miles outside of city limits.
Besides growing blueberries, peaches, corn, organic apples, pumpkins and other produce, weddings had been a big business for Country Mill Farms, going back to 2004. Tennes noted he has never turned anyone away due to their religion.
However, in 2014, Caitlin Ortis and her same-sex partner, Liane, visited and asked Tennes about having their wedding there. He refused, telling them it violated his Catholic faith to cooperate with a same-sex wedding. He referred them to another farmer; and the couple ended up having their wedding somewhere else.
In 2016, Ortis posted on Facebook: "As fall approaches for my Michigan friends and family, when choosing a cider mill to go to, please remember that THE COUNTRY MILL in Charlotte MI refused to let Liane and I have our wedding there because of how we identify." She added, "Please support a local cider mill that does NOT discriminate against LGBTQIA+ folks or any folks for that matter."
The post was widely distributed; and Tennes responded by announcing no more weddings would be held on the property.
Officials in East Lansing told Tennes in 2016 they didn't want him at the farmers market, because they were afraid there would be protesters around his stall. There were none, however, and sales went along just fine.
For the 2017 season, however, the city adopted so-called nondiscrimination laws for market vendors, saying that all vendors must abide by nondiscrimination laws, not only while they are at the farmers market but in all their general business practices.
Tennes sent in his application like he had every year but the city refused, writing, "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.
Tennes responded, "The City of East Lansing officials created a new policy that bars us from the market solely because we publicly stated beliefs that they do not like." He added, "Americans should not be treated worse by the government simply because the government does not like the thoughts and ideas that inspire and guide their lives."