Score another victory for religious freedom! A federal judge issued a ruling in favor of a farmer in East Lansing, Michigan, who was excluded from a public farmer's market because of his Christian beliefs. It turns out that at least some government officials see that the city's rotten actions are violating civil liberties in the name of diversity.
The conflict started in 2017 when the city's government decided that the biggest drama in the farmer's market wasn't the price of tomatoes but the fact that Stephen Tennes, owner of Country Mill Farms, has religious beliefs that the city deemed unacceptable. The issue was related to his decision not to hold same-sex weddings on his farm.
But now, the judge has set things right.
The rights of a Michigan fruit grower were violated when a city barred him from a seasonal market because of his opposition to same-sex weddings at his orchard, a judge said.
East Lansing's decision to exclude Steve Tennes and Country Mill Farms in 2017 "constituted a burden on plaintiffs' religious beliefs," U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said Monday, applying a U.S. Supreme Court precedent to the case.
"Plaintiffs were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified," Maloney said.
Tennes grows apples and other fruit in Eaton County, 22 miles away from East Lansing. He also had made his farm available for weddings.
Maloney explained that East Lansing "has not demonstrated a compelling interest in excluding plaintiffs" from selling their wares at the market. "The city's non-discrimination ordinance tolerates the same discrimination in other situations," he remarked.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the firm representing Tennes, lauded the ruling. "The district court's decision rightly protects Steve's freedom to operate his business according to his convictions," said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson.
The ruling was not unexpected and doesn't change Country Mill Farms' association with the farmers market. The orchard has continued to sell its wares at the East Lansing market since Maloney issued a preliminary injunction against the city in 2017, saying the orchard was likely to prevail in the case.
The lawsuit came after the city changed its vendor guidelines so that its anti-discrimination policy applied to vendors, and then used the changes to deny Tennes a vendor's license in early 2017.
The city's decision to ban Tennes from the market came after he publically announced he would not hold same-sex weddings at his farm and orchard near Charlotte because of his religious beliefs.
The judge's ruling represents a critical victory for religious freedom, a right that progressives have been attacking for years. It could set another precedent for similar cases across the nation as it fights to uphold the right to practice one's religious beliefs.
This story also further highlights how liberty-minded folks can fight back against the authoritarian left, which seeks to use the state to force its ideological beliefs on the rest of us. ADF and other groups have been instrumental in using lawfare to stop efforts to punish people for exercising their beliefs. Hopefully, this will be one of many such decisions in the future.