Farmer, barred from market for same-sex marriage views, sues city

The owner of an orchard near East Lansing, Mich. is suing the city because he's been barred from a farmers' market due to his religious view on same-sex marriage.

There are several issues that make this case unique.  For one, the orchard does not discriminate in selling products in East Lansing to anyone, even same-sex couples.  The city has accused the owner of discriminating against gays on his private property because the owner refuses to host same-sex marriages at the orchard in Charlotte, Mich.

Secondly, in order to bar the orchard from selling at the market, the city passed a non-discrimination ordinance.  The ordinance doesn't appear to affect any other business at the market.  It was aimed specifically at one business.

The owner of the orchard, Stephen Tennes, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his religious freedoms are being violated by the ban. 

The State News:

"Contrary to this policy and the constitutionally protected rights of all couples, The Country Mill has advertised that their business practice is to prohibit same-sex couples from holding weddings at their orchard in Charlotte, MI," the city statement read. "Their business practices violate the City of East Lansing's long-standing ordinance that protects sexual orientation as well as the Supreme Court's ruling that grants the right for same-sex couples to be married."

Tennes, a Roman Catholic, shared his belief that marriage is solely between a man and a woman in a Facebook post on Aug. 24, 2016, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further alleges the city, upon finding the post, immediately took action to remove The Country Mill from the Farmer's Market.

"First, City officials pressured Country Mill to leave the Market, telling the Tennes family that because of their statement of their religious beliefs (1) the City did not want them at the Market that coming Sunday and (2) people would protest and disrupt the Market if Country Mill continued to participate in it," the lawsuit alleges.

"When Country Mill decided to attend the remaining two months of the Farmer's Market season, which they did without any protests or disruptions, East Lansing stopped asking Country Mill to leave and started work to ban Country Mill by City Policy."

East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas confirmed the city had asked Country Mill to voluntarily leave the market place after looking into the post.

"They said they still wanted to come and then they came back (and) said we will not do any weddings at all, so therefore there would be no discrimination because we're not doing weddings," Lahanas said. "We said that was satisfactory and they were free to come to the farmer's market."

However, The Country Mill backtracked on its wedding policy as Tennes reopened the orchard to hosting marriages, though only for opposite-sex couples, according to a December, 12, 2016 Facebook post.

Being a Catholic, Tennes has no choice but to follow the tenets of his church, which say that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.  The city of East Lansing is punishing Tennes for those beliefs and is looking to regulate his business practices despite the fact that his orchard is not within the city limits of Lansing.  If there is discrimination, it is occurring in Charlotte, Mich., where the orchard is located, not in East Lansing. 

A city spokesman explained their reasoning:

The new policy, Lahanas said, made sure vendors could not be discriminatory in business practices overall. If a business denied someone upon race or religion in one town, it could not come to East Lansing and say it would not discriminate in the city.

"We're going to say, well no, it's your business practice, whether it's here or somewhere else. Our rule is we're going to exclude you from our farmer's market," Lahanas said.

I wonder: if an internet company not from East Lansing denied same-sex couples access to its services but sold products online to East Lansing residents, would it also be subject to the ordinance?  And if they're not going to enforce the non-discrimination ordinance across the board, how can they single out one business for punishment?

Apparently, even gay activists were uninterested in protesting against the orchard at the farmers' market, which calls into question the motivations of city authorities.  But federal courts have shown a reluctance to stand up for religious liberty, so chances are, Mr. Tennes's suit will fail.

The owner of an orchard near East Lansing, Mich. is suing the city because he's been barred from a farmers' market due to his religious view on same-sex marriage.

There are several issues that make this case unique.  For one, the orchard does not discriminate in selling products in East Lansing to anyone, even same-sex couples.  The city has accused the owner of discriminating against gays on his private property because the owner refuses to host same-sex marriages at the orchard in Charlotte, Mich.

Secondly, in order to bar the orchard from selling at the market, the city passed a non-discrimination ordinance.  The ordinance doesn't appear to affect any other business at the market.  It was aimed specifically at one business.

The owner of the orchard, Stephen Tennes, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his religious freedoms are being violated by the ban. 

The State News:

"Contrary to this policy and the constitutionally protected rights of all couples, The Country Mill has advertised that their business practice is to prohibit same-sex couples from holding weddings at their orchard in Charlotte, MI," the city statement read. "Their business practices violate the City of East Lansing's long-standing ordinance that protects sexual orientation as well as the Supreme Court's ruling that grants the right for same-sex couples to be married."

Tennes, a Roman Catholic, shared his belief that marriage is solely between a man and a woman in a Facebook post on Aug. 24, 2016, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further alleges the city, upon finding the post, immediately took action to remove The Country Mill from the Farmer's Market.

"First, City officials pressured Country Mill to leave the Market, telling the Tennes family that because of their statement of their religious beliefs (1) the City did not want them at the Market that coming Sunday and (2) people would protest and disrupt the Market if Country Mill continued to participate in it," the lawsuit alleges.

"When Country Mill decided to attend the remaining two months of the Farmer's Market season, which they did without any protests or disruptions, East Lansing stopped asking Country Mill to leave and started work to ban Country Mill by City Policy."

East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas confirmed the city had asked Country Mill to voluntarily leave the market place after looking into the post.

"They said they still wanted to come and then they came back (and) said we will not do any weddings at all, so therefore there would be no discrimination because we're not doing weddings," Lahanas said. "We said that was satisfactory and they were free to come to the farmer's market."

However, The Country Mill backtracked on its wedding policy as Tennes reopened the orchard to hosting marriages, though only for opposite-sex couples, according to a December, 12, 2016 Facebook post.

Being a Catholic, Tennes has no choice but to follow the tenets of his church, which say that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.  The city of East Lansing is punishing Tennes for those beliefs and is looking to regulate his business practices despite the fact that his orchard is not within the city limits of Lansing.  If there is discrimination, it is occurring in Charlotte, Mich., where the orchard is located, not in East Lansing. 

A city spokesman explained their reasoning:

The new policy, Lahanas said, made sure vendors could not be discriminatory in business practices overall. If a business denied someone upon race or religion in one town, it could not come to East Lansing and say it would not discriminate in the city.

"We're going to say, well no, it's your business practice, whether it's here or somewhere else. Our rule is we're going to exclude you from our farmer's market," Lahanas said.

I wonder: if an internet company not from East Lansing denied same-sex couples access to its services but sold products online to East Lansing residents, would it also be subject to the ordinance?  And if they're not going to enforce the non-discrimination ordinance across the board, how can they single out one business for punishment?

Apparently, even gay activists were uninterested in protesting against the orchard at the farmers' market, which calls into question the motivations of city authorities.  But federal courts have shown a reluctance to stand up for religious liberty, so chances are, Mr. Tennes's suit will fail.

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