October 13, 2017 Radio Commentary

Weddings & Religious Freedom

Radio Commentary, 90.7, 91.7 New Life FM, October 13, 2017 – By Sue Ella Deadwyler

Who would’ve thought a little town would ostracize a local family business because of a Facebook post, but that happened to Steve and Bridget Tennes and their five children.  It seems the freedom of speech is limited in that neck-of-the-woods.

The Tenneses, who own a 120-acre farm in Charlotte, Michigan, were banned from selling their produce at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, simply because they posted a message on Facebook to explain their policy about hosting marriages on their Country Mill farm.

In August 2016, in response to questions about services provided for the wedding venue on the family farm, they posted this on Facebook:  “Due to our religious beliefs, we do not participate in the celebration of a same-sex union.”  That statement reflects their Catholic faith.

For help they turned to the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose lawyer explained, “East Lansing officials changed their market policy to shut out Steve because they don’t like his Catholic beliefs regarding marriage.”  Although the Tenneses live 22 miles outside East Lansing, town officials decided to punish them for exercising their freedoms of speech and religious expression.  That unconstitutional punishment (a) denied them the right to sell produce, (b) decreased their income, and (c) diminished their quality of life.

For three and one-half months, the couple was banned from selling organic apples and cider in the largest market available to them.  In May, they filed a federal lawsuit against East Lansing, asking for an injunction that would allow them to return to the market while the case proceeds. The East Lansing mayor said, “It has nothing to do with free speech.  They can say whatever they want, but their corporation needs to act in a certain way to qualify to sell products at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market on publicly owned land.”

To that, the couple’s lawyer said, “No one should have to censor their views to participate in a market and no one should have their economic freedom threatened just because of what they believe.  We’re hopeful the judge will rule quickly on that basis.”

In mid-September a District Court Judge in Kalamazoo, Michigan granted the temporary injunction so the couple can return to the Farmer’s Market for the six weeks left this season, but he did not rule on the merits of their case.

Similar cases: On June 26th the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case between the Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The case centers around the owner’s refusal on religious grounds to provide a same-sex wedding cake.  The Court is set to hear the case this fall.  For Georgia Insight I’m Sue Ella Deadwyler, your Capitol correspondent.