A federal judge on Friday signed off on an agreement for the City of East Lansing to pay $825,000 to the owner of the Country Mill Orchard and Cider Mill in Charlotte.
East Lansing will pay Steve Tennes, the owner of the Charlotte-based business $41,199 in damages and $783,801 in attorneys’ fees.
Tennes successfully sued the city when they denied his business from participating in the East Lansing Farmers Market. The ban resulted from Tennes’ social media post that said his Catholic faith prevented him from using his place of business to host same-sex marriages. Country Mill is located in Eaton County, 22 miles from East Lansing, and therefore not subject to East Lansing legal jurisdiction.
In his ruling last August, U.S. District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan Paul L. Maloney wrote: “Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment on their claim for violation of the Free Exercise Clause based on individualized assessments.”
“This case is about a Policy specifically created by the City of East Lansing to exclude a farmer whose family farm is twenty-two miles outside the City from participating in its city-run farmers market solely because the City dislikes the farmer’s profession of his religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook. This targeted Policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution as well as state law that prohibits Michigan cities from regulating activities
outside city boundaries.”
Maloney wrote in his August ruling: “In August 2016, CMF received an inquiry on its social media website concerning its position on LGBT groups. CMF clarified that because of sincerely held religious beliefs, ‘we do not participate in the celebration of a same sex union. We have and will continue to respectfully direct wedding inquiries to another mid-Michigan orchard that has more experience hosting same sex weddings.'”
East Lansing’s attorneys argued that the Tennes family “were not engaged in conduct associated with the practice of their religion.” Maloney rejected that argument, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedents.
Tennes was represented by the Alliance for Defending Freedom.
“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,” ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson said in a statement. “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.’”
The settlement agreement signed Friday by Maloney also stipulates that Tennes is free to operate Country Mill according to his religious beliefs about marriage without endangering his freedom to participate in the East Lansing Farmers Market.