BLOGWhat’s the Beef? Family Meatpacking Business Threatened with Closure for Religious Beliefs

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | February 21, 2017

When you think of religious liberty, does the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) come to mind? It probably doesn’t. But it will now.

Why? Because the USDA has tried to silence free speech and religious expression at a Michigan meatpacking facility.

Here’s the issue: In 2015, the USDA released an anti-harassment policy statement that prohibits written or oral communications that USDA officials consider “disrespectful” or “insult[ing]” on the basis of sexual orientation.

Enter Don and Ellen Vander Boon, who own West Michigan Beef Company. As Christians, they try to live out their faith in every aspect of their lives. It’s no secret. Even their website states: “Above all, West Michigan Beef seeks to glorify and honor God in all that we do.”




In 2015, Don noticed that there were several articles and op-eds set out on a breakroom table celebrating the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. Since there was only one perspective represented, Don set out an article that discussed his Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Apparently, the government sees no place for that particular viewpoint.

Two USDA officials confronted Don about the article, and they gave him an ultimatum: remove the article from the breakroom, or the USDA officials will be removed from the premises. (Meatpacking businesses cannot legally operate without an onsite USDA inspector.)

In other words, stay silent about your beliefs, or your company will be shut down.

How’s that for tolerance?

Don removed the article but filed a complaint with the USDA. Over a year has passed, and all Don has received is the run around.  In case you’re keeping track, that’s over a year that Don’s speech has been silenced at his own company.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has stepped in. Last week, ADF sent a letter to President Trump asking him to direct the USDA to remedy this blatant suppression of free speech and expression and explaining that situations like Don’s exemplify the great need for an executive order protecting religious freedom.

Here’s why this case should concern everyone: If the government can determine what viewpoints are permissible, where does it stop? It could be any belief or viewpoint that they target next.

“Americans shouldn’t be threatened with the loss of their livelihoods simply because they live and speak peacefully according to their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “It’s especially ridiculous to threaten to shut down an entire facility—harming the jobs of all of the hard workers employed there—in service of a blatantly unconstitutional, politically correct demand like this.”


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Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

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

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