“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic....”
So swore Steve and Bridget Tennes when they joined the United States military —Steve as an engineer and logistics officer in the U.S. Marines and Bridget as a nurse in the U.S. Army.
During their service, Steve and Bridget certainly witnessed foreign threats to our freedoms. But what happens when those threats come from within our own borders...and from our very own government?
Steve and Bridget have witnessed those types of threats as well. And even though they have left the military, they still take their oath very seriously.
From the Armed Forces to an Apple Orchard
After marrying, Steve and Bridget moved to Michigan to take over Country Mill Farms—the family farm where Steve was born and raised. They’re now raising their own six children on the farm, where they grow apples, blueberries, peaches, and pumpkins.
The Tennes family’s Catholic faith is central to everything they do, including how they operate their business. And that’s their right—the very freedom they defended in the military.
So, when someone asked what Steve and Bridget believe about marriage on the Country Mill Facebook page, they answered politely and honestly. They explained their Catholic belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Twenty-two miles away, city officials in East Lansing saw that response and immediately took issue with it.
At that point, Country Mill had attended the East Lansing Farmer’s Market to sell produce for six consecutive years. But after city officials saw this Facebook post, they tried to pressure the Tennes family to stop attending the market.
First, city officials pushed the Tennes family to voluntarily agree not to attend the Farmer’s Market that weekend, calling and emailing repeatedly with that demand. But Steve and Bridget had a truckload of perishable products and regular customers they serve at the East Lansing Market. So they decided to attend that Market anyway.
Then, the City of East Lansing tried to exclude the Tennes family by blocking the vendor selection committee from inviting Country Mill back to the Market for the next year as it had for the last five years. When the Tennes family filled out an application to return anyway, East Lansing officials pulled the application for review by the City’s attorney and then informed the Tenneses that Country Mill was in violation of a new policy—a policy that was created specifically to bar Country Mill from participating in the farmer’s market.
Enemies Foreign and Domestic
At this point, it was clear that their freedoms of speech and religion were being threatened. But those threats weren’t from abroad—they were from their own backyard.
Steve and Bridget knew they had to take a stand. They reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom, and we filed a lawsuit on their behalf. Thankfully, a judge ruled that Country Mill can temporarily return to the farmer’s market and sell their produce while the case continues. Steve and Bridget now must go to trial to permanently protect their freedoms.
As Independence Day approaches, we are reminded of just how important our freedoms are. The American Founders believed in these freedoms so deeply that they were willing to risk their lives, families, and livelihoods. And since then, countless brave men and women have risked, and given, their lives to defend those freedoms that we hold dear.
But as Steve and Bridget know, we can’t just leave it to the military to ensure our freedoms. It takes daily vigilance from every one of us. The threats can come from any direction—including from our own government.
When Steve was in the military, he spent time deployed in the Korean peninsula , where he found himself in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
As he looked across the border into North Korea, he couldn’t help but think about how the people living in that oppressive regime don’t have the freedom to speak or to build their own religious communities. They live in constant fear of government punishment.
He doesn’t want any part of that censorship and coercion to become a reality in this country.
So, even though he and Bridget have left the military, their fight for freedom continues. As it does for each one of us.
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