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Pushback: Court rules against East Lansing’s attempt to blacklist Christian for following his beliefs

Country Mills Farms-banned!
The Tennes are a normal family! We must blacklist them!

They’re coming for you next: Today’s blacklist story is a follow-up on a August 2021 post, and is a victory, of a sort. As I reported then, after farmer Steve Tennes (shown to the right with his family) made the egregious error of stating his strongly held Christian belief that marriage is for a man and a woman only, and he would only rent his farm for such marriages, and not same-sex marriages, the city government of East Lansing decided to specifically write rules that would ban his farm from participating in its local farmer’s market.

The ban against their business, Country Mill Farms, was begun in 2016. Though a court quickly ruled that it was unconstitutional, the city renewed the ban in 2018 and has maintained it since, claiming the court’s ruling only applied to the 2017 season.

The logic of the East Lansing government is actually quite blatent: It believes it has the right to dictate what others can or cannot say in public, the first amendment be damned.

The city’s new rules quite clearly stated it was illegal for anyone to “make a statement which indicates that an individual’s patronage or presence at a place of public accommodation is unwelcome or unacceptable because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.” You essentially had to agree to its queer agenda policies in all things, even if you were not in East Lansing or were doing business in a farm many miles away. And you better not express any dissent to those policies either!

Finally after a five year battle in the courts the Tennes family has won. On August 21, 2023 a federal district court ruled [pdf] that East Lansing’s ban was illegal and blatantly violated the First Amendment, and that East Lansing could not ban Tennes’ farm from participating in its farmers’ market. As noted in the press release from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal non-profit which defended Tennes, the actions of East Lansing were fundamentally illegal.

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.”

I call this a victory of a sort, because though Tennes and his farm can once again participate in the farmers market, nothing has really changed. The court’s ruling included no financial compensation or damages to the Tennes. The city of East Lansing therefore came off scot-free. The same people still run that government and, based on their decision to fight this case for five years (even though the court had already ruled their actions were wrong), we can expect them to simply look for new ways to squelch his freedom to dissent. Tennes had better watch his back.

For example, we should not be surprised if in the coming months a same-sex couple shows up at his farm and demands he rent his farm for their wedding, and then sues when he politely refers them to a different farm that will gladly accommodate them. This has been the harassment tactic used by the queer community in Colorado against baker Jack Phillips. Despite achieving a clear victory at the Supreme Court in 2018, Phillips has since been fined by the state anyway, because he is simply following his own religious beliefs by refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake. Instead, he offers those customers alternative bakers to go to.

We must remind ourselves continually that the jack-booted thugs who tried to silence Tennes still believe they have the right to do so and that the first amendment only protects their speech and not those who disagree with them. They have felt no personal pain for their oppressive attitude, and until they do they will carry on as oppressively as before.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • pzatchok

    We need a ruling that any privately owned business or land is NOT considered public areas even if it is sometimes rented out for private parties or events.

  • Edward

    What? You think you own your own stuff? No, no, no. That was back in the day when the United States stood for truth, justice, and the American way. These days, it is the ruling class that rules, not the Constitution, or laws, or anything else — just the ruling class. The courts are slowly going in that same direction, but they are doing it like they are boiling the frog, using the tactics of Fabian socialism. If they do it all at once, it will be too much for the public to take, so they make slow moves over a long time to take away our rights. It isn’t as though they were our rights in the first place. They have been on loan from the government, given to us by the Bill of Rights, not protected by it.

  • pzatchok

    So I can ask any government official to leave my property unless they have a court order to be there but I can’t keep one homosexual off my lawn if they do not like me?

  • Mitch S.

    I know some Orthodox Jewish synagogues have catering halls (don’t know about mosques but same would apply).
    So if the Tennes’ went to such a synagogue and insisted on booking a Christian wedding on Saturday with a minister and non-kosher food would the Synagogue be required to book it?
    If the Tennes had an apartment building and refused to rent to people they thought were gay it would be in a different category.

    Unfortunately I don’t think the problem is just some radical leftists who manage to get elected to office. The problem is too many people haven’t been taught or no longer understand that the USA was founded on religious freedom. Having religious freedom must include tolerance for people with starkly different beliefs.
    So if your neighbor worships multiple gods or doesn’t believe your prophet is divine – so you are sure your neighbor is a terrible sinner and will burn in hell, you still have to accept he has the same civil rights as you do.
    But you don’t have to endorse his beliefs.
    That concept is lost with so many people today.
    And that scares me.

  • Edward

    Mitch S. wrote: “The problem is too many people haven’t been taught or no longer understand that the USA was founded on religious freedom. Having religious freedom must include tolerance for people with starkly different beliefs.

    The definition of bigot:
    / (ˈbɪɡət) /
    a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, esp on religion, politics, or race

    So, why aren’t the farmers bigots when they don’t rent their property for a day to those who violate their religion? Because those renters want the farmers to participate in the renters’ beliefs. Participation is beyond toleration.

  • Dick Eagleson

    The U.S. Constitution contains a prohibition on bills of attainder. A bill of attainder is an action by a legislative body to deprive a particular person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. This prohibition was a bill of attainder and Mr. Tennes should pursue legal action to recover damages and to remove those who voted for this unconstitutional provision from office.

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