A federal judge has ordered a Michigan city to allow a nearby farmer to participate in its farmers market after concluding officials there likely illegally discriminated against him because of his faith.
The case centers on the issue of same-sex "marriage," and it isn't the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court created that status several years ago that courts have ruled the rights of homosexuals supersede the right to exercise religion.
Previous cases were decided in favor of a T-shirt maker in Kentucky and bakers in Mississippi.
The issue remains before the high court in the case of a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who was ordered by an enraged state Civil Rights Commission to provide same-sex "wedding" cakes and to undergo a state-mandated indoctrination program.
The latest decision favored farmer Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms in his case against East Lansing Michigan.
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, Tennes had posted a notice on his website that he would not permit same-sex "weddings" at his scenic orchard farm because they violate his religious beliefs.
So officials in East Lansing, where he had been selling his products at a farmers market, immediately asked him not to come back. The city then changed its policy to exclude him.
U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney issued a temporary injunction reversing the city's actions until a full court hearing can be held.
Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kate Anderson, who argued in favor of the order on behalf of Tennes on Wednesday said a farmer, just as any American, should be "free to live and speak according to his deeply held religious beliefs without fear of government punishment."
"As the court found, East Lansing officials changed their market policy to shut out Steve because they don't like his Catholic beliefs regarding marriage," she said. "The court was right to issue this order, which will allow Steve to return to the 2017 farmer's market while his case moves forward."
The order from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division said the city of East Lansing "amended its Vendor Guidelines and then used the changes to deny Country Mill's vendor application."
The judge issued the injunction because its likely Tennes and Country Mill Farms would prevail on the merits of their claims for speech retaliation and for free exercise of religion.
The farm, after Tennes referred two women to another orchard when they asked to hold a wedding ceremony there, posted a brief statement about the owner's Catholic faith, according to the court. The city immediately reacted, and within a day was looking for a way to deprive Tennes of permission to participate in the market for the rest of 2016.
City officials communicated by email, with an ongoing demand that "Country Mill voluntarily elect not to attend the market." The officials then amended their vendor requirements to target Tennes, and denied him permission for the 2017 season on that basis.
The judge also noted that while the city argues sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws are valid, "that proposition, by itself, does not accomplish what the city must show to undermine plaintiffs' Free Exercise claim."
The city governmental action is narrowly tailored and is needed to support a compelling government interest, at least.
WND reported in June when a federal appeals court upheld a Mississippi law that protects the religious freedom of those who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that gender is determined at birth.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court not only reversed an injunction imposed by a lower court – preventing the implementation of Mississippi's Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act – it went further and simply dismissed the case.
The ruling found that the individuals and homosexual advocacy organizations who challenged the law didn't have standing to bring their claims.
ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot reacted to the ruling.
"Good laws like Mississippi's protect freedom and harm no one. The court did the right thing in finding that those who have challenged this law haven't been harmed and, therefore, can't try to take the law down," he said.
Theriot explained that the sole purpose of the law is "to ensure that Mississippians don't live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union."
"Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one," he said.
The organization explained state House Bill 1523 "protects citizens, public servants, businesses, and religious institutions from government reprisal for operating publicly according to their belief that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman."
The governor signed the bill into law in April 2016, but a federal district court stopped its enforcement shortly thereafter.
WND reported just weeks earlier on a case brought against a T-shirt maker by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission in Kentucky.
The group appealed to the state's Supreme Court a recent appeals court decision that business owners must serve all people equally but don't have to treat all messages equally.
It was a T-shirt printer, Blaine Adamson, who, with his company Hands On Originals, was sued by the local Human Rights Commission for refusing to promote "gay" rights.
WND reported in May when the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed a Fayette Circuit Court decision that sided with Adamson, saying he could not be forced, in violation of his faith, to print messages demanded by "gay" customers.
The Alliance Defending Freedom contends the high court should leave the decision alone.
"Americans should always have the freedom to say no when asked to express ideas that violate their conscience. Blaine is willing to serve all people, but he cannot print all messages. The two lower courts properly affirmed that Blaine can't be forced to print words and logos that express ideas in conflict with his faith. The Kentucky Supreme Court should leave those decisions in place," said Senior Counsel Jim Campbell.
A number of court rulings over the past few years have found that a "gay" activist's right to have his or her lifestyle affirmed and promoted trumps the U.S. Constitution's protections for religious liberty.
That's essentially what a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, including two justices who had publicly advocated for same-sex "marriage" while the case was underway, found in the Obergefell decision, which created a right to same-sex "marriage."
Religion ‘infringes' on civil rights
A report last year by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under then-President Obama advised subjecting the Constitution's protections for religion to the whims of "gay" advocacy groups.
The report, "Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties," lamented that the U.S. Constitution now limits governmental burdens on religion.
On the first of 306 pages, the "letter of transmittal" to Obama stated, "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."
It said the fault lies with the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which "constricts the ability of government actors to curtail private citizens' rights to the protections of nondiscrimination laws and policies."
"Although the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ... limit the ability of government actors to impede individuals from practicing their religious beliefs, religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies must be weighed carefully and defined narrowly on a fact-specific basis," stated the report.
The commission said federal legislation "should be considered to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination."
"States with RFRA-style laws should amend those statutes to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individuals and religious institutions. States with laws modeled after RFRA must guarantee that those statutes do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights with status-based discrimination," it stated.