The authoritarian left continuously violates the First Amendment rights of others. When they’re not silencing those they disagree with, they’re pushing to have their businesses shut down. Fortunately, some of the people they’re trying to bully are pushing back.
For example, a Catholic farmer recently filed a lawsuit against a local farmer’s market over what he claims is religious discrimination. He’s alleging that after posting about his religious views on Facebook, the local farmers’ market decided to exclude him from the community.
Steve Tennes, the owner of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan, is currently suing the city of East Lansing for religious discrimination. According to his lawsuit, “East Lansing’s policy strips plaintiffs of their constitutional freedoms, including free speech and the free exercise of religion, by punishing plaintiffs’ viewpoint on marriage.”
Specifically, it alleges, “[the city] prohibited Country Mill from continuing its long history of participating in the farmers’ market because plaintiffs publicly stated their sincerely held religious view that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” and adds, “plaintiffs support the rights of citizens and other businesses to express their views about marriage. [They] simply seek to enjoy the same freedom.”
By preventing Tennes from being included in the farmers’ market, the city officials are essentially discriminating against him because he’s a Catholic. With the lawsuit, he’s seeking to be awarded for “damages” in the form of payment and is asking that the judge protects his First Amendment right to religion by giving him permission to sell at the market.
During a press conference, he told reporters, “our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing,” noting, “nor does it have anything to do with the produce that we sell to the people that attend the farmers markets who are from all backgrounds and all beliefs.” He added, “Ultimately, the city developed a new policy to target and block our farm from further participation in their city-run farmers market.”
The discrimination against Tennes started shortly after he posted a status update on Facebook announcing his decision to not allow same-sex couples looking for a wedding venue to use his farm. “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,” read the post. As a Catholic, this means that he won’t book same-sex weddings. Since weddings are inherently religious, and not related to his business as a farmer, he claims that he should be allowed to decide what kinds of weddings he holds.
Unfortunately, the city officials pushed back against his decision. Shortly after posting to Facebook, they urged him to stop coming to the farmers’ market. When Tennes continued to sell at the market without incident, despite concerns that people would come to protest against him, the city decided to modify the rules and subsequently deny his 2017 application. The city’s mayor, Mark Meadows, insisted that the denial was not a violation of the First Amendment. “This is about them operating a business that discriminates against LGBT individuals and that’s a whole different issue,” he explained.
However, Kate Anderson, the lead counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group representing Tennes in his lawsuit against the city, claimed that East Lansing’s changes to the farmers’ market policies were specifically designed to target the farmer. “What [Tennes] did was not illegal,” she said, arguing, “they are running their farm according to their beliefs, which is the right of every American. What is wrong here is the city of East Lansing targeting them and trying to discriminate against them for acting upon their beliefs and for believing.”
She added, “all Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him,” noting, “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. 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.”
Conservatives must not let others be punished for their religious beliefs. Farms are in the business of selling produce. As long as they’re not discriminating against those they sell to, it shouldn’t matter what additional services they provide.