Christian Business Sues Michigan City for Banning Them From Farmers' Market for Opposing Same-Sex Marriage

Representatives of Country Mill Farms at a city of East Lansing farmers' market. In May 2017, Country Mill filed a lawsuit against East Lansing over the city banning them because of their refusal to host same-sex weddings on their property. | (Photo: Screengrab/YouTube/Alliance Defending Freedom)

A Michigan city is being sued for banning a Christian family's business from a local farmers' market because they refuse to host same-sex weddings on their property.

Country Mill Farms and its owner, Stephen Tennes, filed suit against the city of East Lansing on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

At the center of the suit is the city's decision to ban Country Mill Farms from the East Lansing Farmer's Market due to comments Tennes made on his business' Facebook page.

"Tennes' Facebook statement professing his religious beliefs about marriage and his decision to only host and participate in only those weddings on his family farm that comport with those beliefs violates no federal, state, or local law or policy," reads the suit.

"The policy and denial that followed violates Plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it regulates Plaintiffs' speech based on its content and viewpoint, creates a religious gerrymander designed to punish Plaintiffs for their religious beliefs, and conditions Plaintiffs' participation in a public benefit — i.e., participation in the Farmer's Market — on the surrender of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights to free speech, free press, the free exercise of religion, and equal protection under the law."

Country Mill Farm is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that has handled similar cases in the past.

"People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood," said ADF legal counsel Kate Anderson in a statement.

"If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook — by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people — then no American is free."

In a statement released after the suit was filed, East Lansing argued that their banning of Country Mill Farm from the market had to do with their apparent violation of a city civil rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"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, Michigan," stated the city, as reported by Michigan Radio.

"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."

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