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Trial begins for Michigan farmer targeted by city of East Lansing for religious beliefs

ADF attorneys represent Country Mill Farms

Monday, Jul 26, 2021

WHO: Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys

WHAT: Available for media interviews following trial in Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing

WHEN: Trial begins Tuesday, July 27 at 8:45am EDT and will likely continue through Friday, July 30

WHERE: U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division, 174 Federal Building, 410 W. Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys will represent Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes in court this week in Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing.

At issue is an unconstitutional policy that city officials adopted specifically to ban Tennes and Country Mill Farms, his family’s fruit orchard, from participating in the city’s farmer’s market. The city enacted this policy after Tennes posted on Facebook that he follows the Catholic Church’s teachings about marriage, including when he participates in weddings at his family farm. After learning of Tennes’ religious beliefs and practices, city officials sought to drive him out of the market he has served since 2010. The city crafted and passed the new policy even though Tennes, his family, and the orchard are in Charlotte, 22 miles from East Lansing, well outside the city’s boundaries. The city then applied the policy to Tennes alone, excluding only his farm from the market based on the policy change.

“Small business owners should be free to live, speak and operate their business consistent with their religious beliefs without fear of government punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson. “The city of East Lansing’s attempts to not only damage Steve’s livelihood and reputation, but to change his deeply-held views on marriage, is wrong and violates our most basic constitutional freedoms. While ousting him from the market, city officials publicly ridiculed his faith. One official even called Tennes’ Catholic beliefs ‘bigot[ed],’ ‘ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful.’ We are looking forward to bringing these issues to the court this week.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully rejected this type of religious hostility. Even this district court at an earlier stage in this case acknowledged that East Lansing had likely passed an unconstitutional ordinance,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch, former solicitor general of Michigan. “We look forward to proving why the court should permanently prevent East Lansing from targeting Steve on the basis of his Catholic beliefs.”

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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ABOUT Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Parental Rights. In this role, she leads the team working to ensure schools respect the role of parents in directing the upbringing, education, and health care of their children. In 2023, Anderson, together with allied attorneys, successfully defended parents in Wisconsin, and her team is actively engaged in many other states and courts protecting the fundamental rights of parents. Anderson's work at ADF began in 2015, focusing 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.

ABOUT John Bursch

John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. Bursch has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court cases and more than 30 state supreme court cases since 2011, and a recent study concluded that among all frequent Supreme Court advocates who did not work for the federal government, he had the 3rd highest success rate for persuading justices to adopt his legal position. Bursch served as solicitor general for the state of Michigan from 2011-2013. He has argued multiple Michigan Supreme Court cases in eight of the last ten terms and has successfully litigated hundreds of matters nationwide, including six with at least $1 billion at stake. As part of his private firm, Bursch Law PLLC, he has represented Fortune 500 companies, foreign and domestic governments, top public officials, and industry associations in high-profile cases, primarily on appeal. He received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1997 from the University of Minnesota Law School and is admitted to practice in numerous federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.