Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing
Description: City of East Lansing officials exiled Steve Tennes and his popular family business, Country Mill Farms, after he posted on Facebook that he follows the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding marriage when hosting weddings at his family farm. At issue is an unconstitutional policy that city officials adopted specifically to shut out Tennes and Country Mill Farms purely for that reason. The city did this even though Tennes, his family, and the orchard are in Charlotte, 22 miles from East Lansing, well outside the city’s boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction.
MI farmer free to continue selling apples at East Lansing farmer's market
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – A federal district court ruled Monday that Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes is free to continue participating in the East Lansing farmer’s market. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Tennes and his farm sued the city of East Lansing in 2017 after officials excluded Tennes from the market because of his religious beliefs.
“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,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, who argued before the court in July 2021 on behalf of Tennes and his farm. “The district court’s decision rightly protects Steve’s freedom to operate his business according to his convictions. Country Mill has continued to participate in the farmer’s market without issue during this litigation.”
After Tennes posted on Facebook that he follows the Catholic Church’s teachings about marriage, including when he participates in weddings at his family’s farm, city officials enacted a policy to prohibit Tennes and Country Mill Farms from participating in the city’s farmer’s market. The city used a discretionary system of individual assessments to ban only Tennes from market participation, even though Tennes and his family farm have always served everyone at the farmer’s market and have never received any complaints against them. Additionally, their farm is in Charlotte, 22 miles from East Lansing, well outside the city’s boundaries and jurisdiction.
In its ruling in Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division, wrote that Tennes and Country Mill Farms “were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified.” Quoting the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, the court explained that forcing such a choice violates Country Mill’s and Tennes’ “free exercise rights. The reason is simple: denying a person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens because of her faith discourages religious activity.”
“Tennes and Country Mill Farms are grateful for the court’s decision protecting religious liberty,” Anderson continued. “At the same time, they are eager to mend fences with current city officials and get back to doing what Country Mill does best—as expressed in its mission statement: ‘glorifying God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families.’”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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Kate Anderson serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Parental Rights. Since joining ADF in 2015, Anderson has focused on protecting the conscience rights of individuals being unjustly compelled to forfeit their beliefs under threat of government retaliation, heavy fines, or other punishment. Prior to joining ADF, Anderson was an associate attorney with Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC, in Seattle, where she litigated both civil and criminal cases. She obtained her law degree magna cum laude in 2009 from Gonzaga University School of Law, where she served on the Gonzaga Law Review. She is admitted to the state bars of Arizona and Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court, and several federal district and appellate courts.