BLOGThe Weekly Digest: No, Cities Cannot Regulate Outside of Their Jurisdiction

By James Arnold Posted on: | June 21, 2017
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No, Cities Cannot Regulate Outside of Their Jurisdiction

 

Sometimes, government officials begin to believe their power extends beyond the appropriate scope.

For the city of East Lansing, it is time for a reality check.

Over at The Federalist, ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs offers up this imaginary conversation as an example of government overreach:

Officer: Is that a 32-ounce soft drink?

Man: Yes, officer.

Officer: Well, I’m going to have to ticket you for that. New York City recently banned consumption of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces.

Man: I’m sorry, officer. I didn’t know about that law. But we’re currently in New Jersey now, and I bought the drink in New Jersey after leaving New York. So I’m confused.

Officer: Doesn’t matter. As part of the law, New York banned anyone from doing business in the city if he or she drinks soft drinks larger than 16 ounces anywhere.

Man: Wow. The city must seriously dislike soft drinks. Okay, but one more question, if you don’t mind. How did you even know to pull me over for the drink after my business trip?

Officer: Well, the city monitors social media, so when you posted a picture of the soft drink, it flagged city officials. In fact, posting the drink is a separate violation of the law, so I’m going to have to ticket you for two violations. Here you go. Have a nice day.

There is an obvious absurdity in a police officer ticketing a citizen for breaking the law of different city because the citizen wrote something about it on social media.

In the city of East Lansing—well, outside of it—that is precisely the problem.

Steve Tennes owns and operates Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan. Let the record reflect that this is 22 miles outside of East Lansing, Michigan.

Here's how Scruggs summarizes what has happened:

"As a Catholic taught to treat everyone with dignity and respect, Steve has gladly served and sold apples to all comers, regardless of their sexual orientation. Steve doesn’t discriminate. Okay, so what’s the problem then? Well, in 2016, Steve posted on the Country Mill Facebook page about his Catholic belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman and that his farm could only host weddings consistent with his faith.

"Well, that did it. Normal rules go out the window when that subject comes up. Although his decision violated no law in Charlotte, it did violate East Lansing’s orthodoxy on that issue. After hearing about Steve’s beliefs, East Lansing officials expelled Steve, telling him that Country Mill could no longer participate in the Farmer’s Market. When Steve asked why, the officials responded that County Mill’s 'general business practices' outside the city had violated East Lansing’s 'anti-discrimination' law. As proof of his wrongdoing, officials pointed Steve to his Facebook post that explained his religious beliefs.

"So let’s be clear here. Steve violated no law in Charlotte where he lives and works. He violated no state law. He violated no federal law. In fact, he violated no East Lansing Law. Whether in East Lansing or outside it, Steve sells his apples to anyone. And whether in East Lansing or outside it, Steve has the First Amendment freedom not to promote events that violate his conscience. But when Steve posted his religious beliefs on Facebook from 22 miles outside of East Lansing, the city excluded Steve’s farm from doing business within East Lansing."

The city of East Lansing (or any city for that matter) has limits on the area in which it can enforce regulations. Here's a hint about those limits: They are the 14 or so square miles known as "East Lansing, Michigan." They are not, no matter how much officials want to believe it, also known as "Charlotte, Michigan" or anywhere else.

As Scruggs concludes, "[g]overnments like East Lansing should stay inside the lines of First Amendment freedoms. Steve's lawsuit aims to make sure they do, for his sake and yours."

 
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James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.

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