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MI city agrees to pay $825K, protect farmer’s religious freedom

ADF attorneys favorably settle lawsuit on behalf of Country Mill Farms, owner Steve Tennes
Steve and Bridget Tennes on their farm

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – To settle a lawsuit brought by a Catholic farmer, the city of East Lansing has agreed to protect Country Mill Farms’ constitutional right to operate according to its religious beliefs and also agreed to pay $825,000 ($41,199 in damages and $783,801 in attorneys’ fees).

A federal district court ruled in August that Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes is free to continue participating in the East Lansing farmer’s market. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Tennes and his farm sued the city in 2017 after officials excluded Tennes from the market because of his religious beliefs.

“Steve and his family-run farm happily serve all customers as a valued vendor at East Lansing’s farmer’s market. The court was right to agree that the First Amendment protects Steve, like every other small business owner, to operate his business according to his faith and convictions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson. “We’re pleased to favorably settle this lawsuit on behalf of Steve so he and his family can continue doing what Country Mill does best, as expressed in its mission statement: ‘glorifying God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families.’”

After Tennes posted on Facebook that he follows the Catholic Church’s teachings about marriage, including when he participates in weddings at his family’s farm, city officials enacted a new market policy to prohibit Tennes and Country Mill Farms from participating in the city’s farmer’s market. The city used a discretionary system of individual assessments to ban only Tennes from market participation, even though Tennes and his family farm have always served everyone at the farmer’s market and have never received any complaints. Additionally, their farm is in Charlotte, 22 miles from East Lansing, well outside the city’s boundaries and jurisdiction.

As part of the settlement agreement, the city of East Lansing agreed that Tennes is free to continue running his business in accord with his religious beliefs about marriage without jeopardizing his ability to participate in the city’s farmer’s market.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Kate Anderson
Kate Anderson
Senior Counsel, Director of Center for Parental Rights
Kate Anderson serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Parental Rights.