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This Week: A Family Farm in Michigan Standing Up to Government Hostility

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
July 27, 2021

That morning in 1970 started out like many others. A man named Bernie Tennes sat down to read the local newspaper in East Lansing, Michigan, when an ad caught his attention.

An 80-acre farm was being put up for sale in Charlotte, Michigan—about 20 miles southwest. Having grown up on a farm himself, Bernie was immediately interested. After driving out to see the farm and talking with his wife, Ann, they decided to buy it. They packed up their family and headed out of East Lansing.

Yet, nearly 50 years later, the City of East Lansing decided it doesn’t approve of the Tennes family’s beliefs. In a show of shocking government overreach, East Lansing officials have tried to impose their preferred ideology on the Tennes family and its farm, Country Mill Farms—even though it sits outside of city limits.

This clear government hostility doesn’t belong in a pluralistic society like ours. There is plenty of room for everyone to peacefully live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment. That’s why, this week, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys will represent Country Mill Farms in court.

It all started in 2017.

At that point, a few things had changed at Country Mill. Bernie’s son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Bridget, had moved back home to run the now 213-acre family farm and to raise their six kids.

But other things had stayed the same. Following Bernie and Ann’s example, Steve and Bridget seek to operate Country Mill in a way that glorifies God.

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.

This caused an uproar among East Lansing officials. They tried to pressure the Tennes family into leaving the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, where Country Mill had sold their fresh produce for the previous six years.

When pressure tactics didn’t work, city officials blocked the Farmer’s Market vendor selection committee from inviting Country Mill back. After the family farm submitted its application, the Tennes family was informed that it was in violation of a new policy—a policy that was created after the Tennes’s Facebook post and designed specifically to bar Country Mill from participating in future Farmer's Market.

It gets worse.

In a public debate, a city council member called the Tennes family’s Catholic beliefs “ridiculous, horrible, [and] hateful things.” Other city officials publicly ridiculed Steve’s Catholic beliefs about marriage and suggested that his beliefs must change if he wants to continue doing business at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market.

But the fact that East Lansing officials are trying to punish Country Mill simply because they disagree with the Tennes family’s religious beliefs is what’s truly “ridiculous.” Even beyond that, the actions of East Lansing officials violate our Constitution as well as U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled twice—first in Obergefell and then again in Masterpiece—that the government must respect the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

That’s clearly not happening in East Lansing. And that’s why, with the help of ADF, the Tennes family is taking a stand.

Bernie moved his family out of East Lansing over 50 years ago. At that point, they should have been free of the heavy hand of the East Lansing government. But, apparently, religious hostility knows no bounds.

There is one thing the Tennes family didn’t leave behind in East Lansing, though—their freedoms. And you can be sure that ADF stands ready to defend those freedoms when the government, or anyone else, threatens them.

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Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.


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