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Local farmer takes case against East Lansing to federal court

Posted at 7:11 AM, Apr 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-12 10:01:44-04

Charlotte farmer Steve Tennes will be in federal court Friday requesting a permanent order to be allowed back into the East Lansing farmer's market.

Tennes was kicked out in 2016 because he said he wouldn't allow same-sex marriages at his farm, the Country Mill.

Tennes already won an injunction allowing him back into the market temporarily. Now he's asking the court to permanently ban East Lansing from discriminating against his religious beliefs.

"I think it's important for us as Americans to stand up for our freedoms whenever we see the government start to encroach on us and to treat some groups of people differently just because the government doesn't agree," Tennes said.

Tennes started coming to the East Lansing farmer's market in 2010. He decided to fight back when the city banned him for refusing to allow same-sex marriages at his orchard. A temporary injunction has allowed him back in for the past few seasons, but that's not good enough for the family.

"My wife and I are both military veterans and we both served our country in part to help defend some of the freedoms we have here as Americans...freedom of religion, freedom of speech. We never thought that after our travels we would come home to raise our family and then to be faced with a local government telling us that we can't believe," he said.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows disagrees.

"They say we are discriminating against them for their religious beliefs...their religious beliefs have nothing to do with this," Meadows said.

He says Country Mill's discrimination violates the city's Human Rights Ordinance.

"Since we are renting property to them, a property space to them to operate in the farmer's market, that would be renting a property space to someone who has already announced that they do not operate a business in accordance with our ordinance."

Tennes and his family say what they do on their farm in Charlotte shouldn't matter at the East Lansing market--where he sells to anyone regardless of sexual orientation.

"As Christians, we love and support everybody. As Christians, we treat everybody with dignity and respect," Tennes said.

Tennes says his farm doesn't just ban same-sex marriages. He told News 10 things like bachelor parties and haunted houses also violate his religious beliefs.

The hearing will take place on Friday at 1:30 at the federal courthouse in Kalamazoo.

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