Steve Tennes remembers staring into North Korea.
As a United States Marine Corps engineer and logistics officer, Steve was deployed to the Korean Peninsula. While there he entered the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.
Steve looked across the heavily guarded border into one of the world’s most oppressed dictatorships. He remembers thinking about how people mere miles away from where he stood did not have the freedom to speak their minds. He remembers thinking about how they didn’t have the freedom to attend a Sunday service or speak about their faith.
Too often, in the United States, we take our freedoms for granted. In America, our God-given freedoms of speech and religion are protected by the Constitution.
On Veteran’s Day, we celebrate the men and women in our military who are constantly working to make sure our freedoms stay protected.
Steve and his wife Bridget are two of these people. And while today they spend their days caring for their family farm in Michigan, their service to our country taught them this important lesson: to never take their freedoms for granted.
Home on Country Mill Farms
Bridget Tennes always wanted to marry a farmer. But when she met Steve in the ROTC program while they were both in college, she thought that God had different plans.
After graduating college, Bridget worked as a registered nurse for the U.S. Army and was stationed in Hawaii. Steve joined the U.S. Marines and worked diligently to gain the ability to choose to be stationed in Hawaii so he could be closer to Bridget. The Lord brought Steve and Bridget back together, and while stationed in Hawaii, the two became engaged.
And then, God granted Bridget’s wish to be married to a farmer after all.
It turns out, Steve also desired to return to his family’s farm in Michigan, Country Mill Farms. And after the couple served in the military for four years, Steve and Bridget moved to Charlotte, Michigan.
Today, the couple runs their 213-acre family farm with 37 varieties of apples. They grow blueberries, peaches, cherries, corn, and pumpkins and run numerous educational and family fun events for their community throughout the year. They do all of this while raising their six children on the same farm where Steve was born and raised.
Although they are no longer in uniform, Steve and Bridget continue to serve their community in many other ways. They host an annual event called Pick a Peck for People, where they invite groups, families, and individuals to pick as many apples as possible to donate to a local food bank, providing fresh fruit to families throughout winter.
They also actively support Farmer Veteran Coalition, which helps veterans enter the farming profession after military service.
The Tennes family works hard to run their farm and serve their community. That’s why they were shocked when they were barred from participating in a local farmer’s market—all because of their religious beliefs.
A Facebook Post and a Farmer’s Market
For years, the Tennes family participated in the farmer’s market at East Lansing, Michigan, which is located in a different city than Country Mill Farms, about 22 miles away. They provided excellent service and were such a hit at the farmer’s market that East Lansing continually asked them to return.
But that all abruptly changed in 2016. Steve answered a question on Country Mill Farms’ Facebook page where he expressed his Catholic belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Even though Country Mill Farms happily serves everyone, and even though the Facebook post had nothing to do with the farmer’s market, East Lansing officials decided to punish the Tennes family because they disagreed with the family’s religious beliefs.
First, East Lansing pressured the family to leave the farmer’s market. Then, the City went even further and crafted a new policy aimed directly at keeping Steve and his family out of future markets.
So, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a complaint against the city on behalf of Country Mill Farms. Thankfully, in 2017, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction, meaning the Tennes family is free to participate in the farmer’s market while their case continues.
In April, ADF asked the Court to make that injunction permanent. The Tennes family is still awaiting that final judgement.
Never Take Freedom for Granted
The First Amendment protects every American’s freedom of speech and religion—not just those with whom government officials agree.
Steve and Bridget Tennes know this well. They both served in the armed forces in order to protect these freedoms.
This Veteran’s Day we remember the thousands of men and women like Steve and Bridget who have served and sacrificed so that we may be free. As Steve was reminded that day on the North Korean border, there are so many people in the world today who are not as fortunate.
To all veterans: thank you so much for your service.
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