Update: Thought Police in Michigan Ban Farmers from City-Run Market

One year ago, in August, a Facebook user asked if Country Mill Farms hosted so-called “same-sex weddings” on its property. The user was politely informed that the Charlotte, Michigan, farm did not. Shortly after, the owners of Country Mill Farms, Steve and Bridget Tennes, received multiple requests from East Lansing city officials (22 miles away from Charlotte) to cease coming to their municipally operated East Lansing Farmer’s Market (ELFM).

The Tennes have sold their produce, baked goods, and other wares at the farmer’s market since 2010 without incident and had always been warmly received by patrons. But city officials cited the potential for a disruptive protest. The Tennes returned that weekend without incident.

Later that month, Steve and Bridget decided to suspend wedding activities until after the harvest season when they could revisit the issue, and in December they posted an update announcing they would resume hosting weddings. Their announcement is as follows:

“This past fall our family farm stopped booking future wedding ceremonies at our orchard until we could devote the appropriate time to review our policies and how we respectfully communicate and express our beliefs. The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business, and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs.

“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.

“Furthermore, it remains our religious belief that all people should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs or background. We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting wedding ceremonies at our family farm.”

In retaliation for the posting, East Lansing officials rejected the Tennes’ application for a 2017 ELFM permit, citing a “civil rights ordinance” the city amended specifically to address Country Mill Farms. The amendment prohibits extra-jurisdictional businesses that do not actively conform to East Lansing’s worldview and definition of “discrimination” from doing business within city limits.

The Tennes (Steve, a Marine veteran, and Bridget, an Army veteran) decided to stand for their First Amendment rights by suing the city for religious discrimination the week of Memorial Day. As the parents of five children, the Tennes believe standing up for our inalienable right to religious freedom for every generation carries more weight than the death threats they have received or their sacrifice of time away from their business operations. Please pray for injunctive relief in federal court for the Tennes and a strong statement for all Christians in the marketplace and beyond.

When you support the NCLL, you defend families and individuals like the Tennes in the courtroom, legislatures, and the court of public opinion. Thank you for your financial support for our efforts to protect you in your church, home, workplace, and classroom. By standing shoulder-to-shoulder we advance maximum ministry with minimum liability.