A federal judge on Friday issued an
injunction forcing the city of East Lansing, Michigan to allow a
farmer opposed to same-sex marriage to return to its outdoor market.
Stephen Tennes' The Country Mill farm
in Eaton County is a popular wedding venue. In a Facebook post in
December, Tennes said that he reserves the right to refuse to host
the weddings of gay and lesbian couples.
The city responded by barring Tennes
from its market, saying that he had violated its civil rights
ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual
orientation. Tennes filed a lawsuit in May, saying that his rights to
free speech and religion are being violated. Tennes is represented
by the Washington-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
In his 16-page ruling, U.S. District
Judge Paul Maloney sided with Tennes, saying that his Facebook posts
announcing his policy “constitute protected activity” under the
“The City focuses on the act of
excluding same-sex wedding ceremonies from Country Mill,” wrote
Maloney, an appointee of George W. Bush. “But, even if that
conduct is not protected, Plaintiffs still engaged in protected
activity when Tennes communicated his religious beliefs on Facebook
in August and December. Even if the City is correct that talking
about discrimination is not protected, Plaintiffs also talked about
their religious beliefs, which is a protected activity. For the first
element in the retaliation claim the City cannot ignore the portions
of the Facebook posts that would be protected speech.”
Maloney also found that the city had
violated Tennes' freedom of religion.
“A factfinder could infer that the
change in the Vendor Guidelines was motivated by Plaintiffs’
religious beliefs or their religiously-motivated conduct. And, the
City’s hostility to Plaintiffs’ religion or religious conduct was
then manifested when the City used its facially neutral and generally
applicable ordinance to deny Plaintiffs’ Vendor Application,” he
In a Facebook post, Tennes said that he
was “thrilled” with the decision that allows him to return to the
East Lansing Farmer's Market.
The city called the ruling
“disappointing” and said that it was considering seeking an