East Lansing farmers market dispute heads to federal court

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Nearly three years after it started, a dispute between a local business and the city of East Lansin lands in federal court.

The city of East Lansing officals said  it doesn’t want to do business with a business that discriminates. In this case, that means Country Mill Farms in charlotte. The owner there will not allow gay couples to host weddings or get married.

But that owner is now suing the city is saying it’s East Lansing discriminating against him.

“What the city did here was target Mr. Tennes and his farm simply because they didn’t like his religious beliefs,” said Caite Anderson, who is the attorney for Steve Tennes. “They talked about wanting to change those beliefs, and they publicly ridiculed his catholic faith and that’s something that no city government shouldn’t do to anyone.”

But city officials think otherwise. We spoke to the East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows yesterday.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with their religion, they’re free to believe whatever they want,” said Meadows. “It’s a business operation. A business practice that is offensive to our ordinance and that’s why we continue to defend this case.”

The case between the Country Mill Farm owner Steve Tennes and the city of East Lansing. In 2016 Tennes was asked not return to the city’s farmers market. This was after Tennes posted on Facebook he doesn’t host same sex marriages at his farm because of his catholic beliefs.

“I think it’s important for Americans when they feel like they’re being treated differently by the government simply because they’ve spoken about their beliefs that it’s important to stand up,” Tennes said.

Attorney Michael Bogren represented the city of East Lansing in court Friday. He said the city is free to protect same sex couples. Bogren said out of all vendors, no one else put up an electronic sign saying no gay couples allowed. He was referring to the Facebook post Tennes made.

Bogren added nobody from the city mentioned religion when Tennes was asked not to come back to the farmers market. The city officials said he was asked not to come because of his actions.

“They said it was his catholic views that got him into trouble,” said Anderson. “They were around talking about his beliefs when this case was going on when they were excluding him from the market so it was always about that.”

After hearing both arguments in court on Friday, the judge will now make a decision and write an opinion. There is no timeline and a trial date has not been set.

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