June 01, 2017
You will know them by their fruits -- and at a prominent Michigan orchard, that was certainly true of the Tennes Family. Steve and Bridget, a husband and wife team who have poured their hearts into their 120-acre farm, have never shied away from their Christian faith. And now, they can’t sell their produce at the East Lansing Farmers Market because of it.
In another astounding case of intolerance, Country Mill Orchards was kicked out of the sellers group last August when city officials got wind of the couple’s biblical views on marriage. After seven years of hosting one of the most popular stalls at the market, they’ve been pushed out because they dared to agree with 53 percent of the American people! Of course, the irony is, the Tenneses never mentioned marriage at the market -- this was all the result of a Facebook fishing expedition from a potential wedding client.
When two women asked to be married on the farm in 2014, the Tennes turned them down, explaining that because of their faith, they referred same-sex couples to neighboring farms. Two years later, the couple decided to launch a social media smear campaign, urging people to stay away from Country Mill. When their post was brought to East Lansing’s attention, local leaders raced to pass an ordinance directly targeting small business owners like the Tenneses. In a press conference this week, Steve could only shake his head at the strong-arm tactics of the Left. “East Lansing [had] posted on their Facebook page: ‘We love the Country Mill.’ That came to an abrupt end that same August [when the family went public with their views]. Because of our beliefs,” Steve went on, “the city of East Lansing strongly and immediately pressured us not to return to the farmers market that very weekend. Ultimately, the city developed a new policy to target and block our farm from further participation in their city-run farmers market.”
And here’s the kicker: the Tenneses not only serve people who identify as LGBT -- they employ them! But that’s not enough for the extreme Left, who will accept nothing less than the full and complete surrender of every Christian’s First Amendment rights. As Steve pointed out, “Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing. Nor does it have anything to do with the produce that we sell to the people that attend the farmers markets who are from all backgrounds and all beliefs.”
The attack on the Tenneses is especially upsetting since both Steve and Bridget are military veterans, and they -- more than anyone -- know the price of freedom. “We were surprised, and we were shocked,” Steve told Fox News’s Todd Starnes. “My wife and I both volunteered to serve in the military to protect freedom. Now we come home and the freedom that we worked to protect, we have to defend in our own backyard.”
Now, the veterans are fighting a new battle to keep this same harassment from happening to other Americans. Together with Alliance Defending Freedom, the family is taking East Lansing to court, demanding their reinstatement in the local market. “We have to stand up for what’s right and be able to speak freely about our beliefs,” Steve said determinedly. “And to live out our own beliefs at our own home on our own farm.”
So far, the family has plenty of supporters -- including Oklahoma Senator James Lankford (R), who tweeted, “The @CityofEL should find strength in tolerance & freedom for all. Diversity, not division. #LetThemServe.” This is exactly the kind of selective censorship the president’s religious liberty initiatives are designed to stop. No one, least of all veterans, should be forced to swallow their beliefs as a price of doing business.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.