Monday, June 05, 2017

This Farmer Won’t Host Same-Sex Weddings at His Orchard. Now a City Has Banned Him From Its Farmers Market

A farmers market and Facebook posts have opened a new front in courtroom battles over religious freedom.

It started when Steve Tennes, who owns a 120-acre farm in Charlotte, Michigan, expressed his traditional view about marriage on the farm’s Facebook page.

This drew a warning from an official more than 20 miles away in East Lansing, Michigan, that if Tennes tried to sell his fruit at the city’s farmers market, it could incite protests.

No one showed up to protest that August day last summer, though, and Tennes continued selling organic apples, peaches, cherries, and pumpkins at the seasonal market until October, as he had done the six previous years.

Nevertheless, East Lansing moved earlier this year to ban Tennes’ farm, the Country Mill, from participating in the farmers market when it resumes June 4. The city cited its human relations ordinance, an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

So Tennes and his wife sued the city for religious discrimination.

As a Marine veteran who is married to an Army veteran, Tennes told The Daily Signal, this was consistent with his philosophy of defending freedom:

My wife Bridget and I volunteered to serve our country in the military to protect freedom, and that is why we feel we have to fight for freedom now, whether it’s Muslims’, Jews’, or Christians’ right to believe and live out those beliefs.

The government shouldn’t be treating some people worse than others because they have different thoughts and ideas.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal aid organization, is representing the Tenneses.

Neither East Lansing’s public information office nor the city manager’s office responded Wednesday to phone calls about the case from The Daily Signal.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows told the Lansing State Journal that the city’s decision to exclude Country Mill—also known as Country Mill Orchard—from the farmers market had nothing to do with religious beliefs, but with the farm’s “business decision” not to host same-sex weddings.

“This is about them operating a business that discriminates against LGBT individuals, and that’s a whole different issue,” Meadows said, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, says of Steve and Bridget Tennes’ perspective, in part:

Plaintiffs support the rights of citizens and other businesses to express their views about marriage. Plaintiffs simply seek to enjoy the same freedom.

Yet, East Lansing’s policy strips plaintiffs of their constitutional freedoms, including free speech and the free exercise of religion, by punishing plaintiffs’ viewpoint on marriage, going so far as to prohibit Country Mill from continuing its long history of participating in the farmers market because plaintiffs publicly stated their sincerely held religious view that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

The suit also says the farm “has employed people from a wide variety of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds, including members of the LGBT community.

Country Mill hosts a corn maze, birthday parties, weddings, and other events. In 2014, two lesbians sought to be married in a wedding ceremony at Country Mill, but Tennes turned them down.

This occurred before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country.

According to his legal complaint, Tennes had a “civil” discussion with the women, and said his venue didn’t host same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs. But he referred the women to an orchard that held same-sex weddings.

In 2015, the two women were married at another orchard. On Aug. 22, 2016, one of them wrote a Facebook post discouraging consumers from doing business with Country Mill.

In response, Tennes initially said the farm would cease holding any weddings.

After this post, the East Lansing official asked Tennes not to sell produce at the market, saying he feared protests. Tennes did anyway, and no protest occurred, according to the lawsuit.

In December, Tennes announced on Facebook that Country Mill would resume holding weddings:

This past fall our family farm stopped booking future wedding ceremonies at our orchard until we could devote the appropriate time to review our policies and how we respectfully communicate and express our beliefs. The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs.

The Country Mill family and its staff have and will continue to participate in hosting the ceremonies held at our orchard. It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment right to express and act upon its beliefs. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience.

Furthermore, it remains our religious belief that all people should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs or background. We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting wedding ceremonies at our family farm.

East Lansing city officials determined that these public statements violated the city’s 1972 human relations ordinance prohibiting discrimination. That law was the first in the state to recognize sexual orientation as a protected class from discrimination.

But this brought up a jurisdictional issue on top of First Amendment concerns, the farmer’s lawsuit says.

East Lansing, the complaint says, “has no authority to enforce its ordinance based on Tennes’ religious beliefs and their impact on how he operates Country Mill.” The farm, it says, is 22 miles outside the city.

The lawsuit also notes that the city has not taken action against a vendor that promoted same-sex marriage.

In March, East Lansing sent Tennes a letter denying Country Mill’s application to be a vendor at the 2017 farmers market:

It was brought to our attention that the Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s civil rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 market vendor guidelines. “As such,” the letter reads, “Country Mill’s presence as a vendor is prohibited.”


Trump Administration Considering Rule That Would Help Little Sisters of the Poor

For employers that don’t want to provide birth control and abortifacient coverage in health insurance plans, relief may be on the way.

President Donald Trump’s administration “is poised to make changes to Obamacare’s birth control coverage mandate by granting broad exemptions to employers that object on religious or moral grounds,” The Hill reported.

The proposed move is being cheered by some conservatives.

“Better late than never,” Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal organization, said in a statement.

Americans need an alternative to the mainstream media. But this can't be done alone. Find out more >>

“At long last the United States government acknowledges that people can get contraceptives without forcing nuns to provide them,” Rienzi added. “That is sensible, fair, and in keeping with the Supreme Court’s order and the president’s promise to the Little Sisters and other religious groups serving the poor.”

The Becket Fund represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who fought the Obamacare contraception and abortifacient mandate all the way to the Supreme Court.

Last year, the Supreme Court “‘vacated,’ meaning erased, all of the lower court cases and required them to reconsider the claims brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor and others that the regulations promulgated pursuant to Obamacare violate their religious exercise in light of the government’s admission that it could indeed provide contraceptive coverage without the Little Sisters’ collaboration,” wrote The Heritage Foundation’s Elizabeth Slattery and Roger Severino, a former Heritage employee, at the time.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an organization that promotes pro-life and family values, said the proposed rule change is good progress.

“While this apparent leaked document is a draft, it is a very positive sign to see the federal government work to cease its hostility toward Christians and those who object to the Obama-era health care mandates,” Perkins said in a statement. “This draft regulation shows that [Health and Human Services] Secretary Tom Price and President Trump intend to make good on their pledge to vigorously protect and promote [America’s] First Freedom.”

Birth control advocates, such as Keep Birth Control Copay Free, an organization that promotes birth control access, are not supportive of the potential rule change.

“President Trump has been clear that religious liberty is important and that religious orders, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are deserving of that freedom as well,” a White House spokesperson told The Daily Signal in an email.

The leaked rule “would leave in place the religious ‘accommodation’ created by the Obama administration, making that route available to groups that choose to continue using it,” according to the Becket Fund.

The Becket Fund also noted in its press release that many Americans remain on health insurance plans that do not have to provide abortifacients or birth control:

One hundred million Americans—nearly one in three—don’t have insurance plans that must comply with this mandate. The government was already exempting large corporations like Exxon and Visa, and even its own government-run plans for the disabled and military families.

Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, told The Daily Signal in an email that the proposed rule could be published in the next week or in the next several weeks.


How Some State Politicians Are Using Government to Threaten Free Speech

When it comes to threatening the free speech rights of American citizens, progressives have largely been the culprits at the federal level. Yet increasingly, Republican state legislators have taken up this crusade.

Last month, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez rightly vetoed a Republican-supported bill that would have forced nonprofits to disclose their supporters’ personal information, saying it would “likely discourage charities and other groups that are primarily non-political from advocating for their cause.”

Now, New Mexico’s Democratic secretary of state might impose the same disclosure requirements through campaign finance rules she plans to unveil later this year.

Nonprofits also came under attack this January in South Carolina. There, Republican state Sen. Hugh Leatherman introduced a bill  that sought to limit the type of speech nonprofit groups could engage in when participating in public policy debates.

Things aren’t much better in South Dakota. Last year, voters in that state narrowly passed a ballot initiative that would have drastically changed state campaign finance laws.

That measure, which was overturned by the Legislature in January, sought to subsidize political campaigns with taxpayer dollars and require additional disclosures of private information that could have opened citizens up to harassment.

Then came a political tiff in Missouri that spilled over into a threat to free speech.

After state Sen. Rob Schaaf found himself at odds with Republican Gov. Eric Greitens throughout the legislative session, a nonprofit group that supported the governor repeatedly criticized the senator.

In return, Schaaf doubled down by proposing legislation he had previously introduced, which would force nonprofits to report the names and personal information of their private supporters.

Proponents of these kinds of disclosure bills claim transparency is their goal. But we require transparency from government, not the other way around.

As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in 1958’s landmark NAACP v. Alabama opinion, there is a “vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s association,” and the revelation of the identity of the NAACP’s “rank-and-file members has exposed these members to … loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and … public hostility,” among other forms of intimidation.

Threats of intimidation for holding certain beliefs still persist. And with modern technology, disclosed membership lists could be accessed by internet trolls, social media mobs, and protest organizers in mere seconds.

A few strokes of the keyboard and suddenly, a reputation is destroyed, a business boycotted into ruin, or a home vandalized because an individual donated to the “wrong” nonprofit.

In addition to compelling private organizations to disclose their supporters, some measures, like those in South Dakota and Missouri, also give tremendous power to state ethics commissions.

While seemingly benign, charging these bodies with regulating and enforcing disclosures poses a significant threat to private citizens’ right to support causes in which they believe.

Deborah Jordahl, a political consultant in Wisconsin, can speak to this firsthand.

In 2013, armed law enforcement officers executed a predawn raid of her home. They confiscated records, computers, and smartphones; prevented her from calling her lawyer; and told her that she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about what happened.

Jordahl was not alone in this. Several other private citizens in Wisconsin had their homes ransacked and lives upended in what came to be known as the John Doe investigation, carried out at the behest of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and a special prosecutor.

Another private citizen targeted in the investigation, Cindy Archer, said, “It destroyed my career, it destroyed my life, it changed who I am.”

What were their crimes?

They didn’t commit any. They engaged in lawful policy advocacy as private citizens. Powerful officials just happened to disagree with them.

Lawmakers who support disclosure laws appear oblivious to the potential for such abuse. One South Dakota legislator asked, “Why are you afraid to associate your name with something you support?”

The answer is retaliation, as Schaaf can attest. Recently, he said he and his colleagues have “to be able to have a free and fair discussion,” and not be “afraid of doing the right thing” simply because someone might run ads ridiculing them.

If Schaaf and other elected officials, who have chosen to be public figures, could be silenced by fear of ridicule, then certainly he should understand why private citizens might be hushed by his disclosure law.

Anonymous speech has been part of the American political tradition since our founding. In “Common Sense,” “the Federalist Papers,” and other works, anonymity allowed ideas to be spoken without threat of intimidation and heard without bias.

Politicians who advance disclosure laws are showing they would rather attack the speaker than debate issues and ideas on their merits. This is corrosive to our democratic process. Anonymous speech is not.


Poll: Conservatives, Weekly Church Goers Say No New LGBT Laws Needed

Although a Gallup poll shows that Americans are split over whether new laws are needed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, the same survey shows that strong majorities of male adults, weekly church goers, conservatives, and Republicans believe no new laws are needed.

On the flip side, strong majorites of women, young people, Democrats, and liberals believe more laws are needed.

In the poll, Gallup asked, "Do you think new civil rights laws are needed to reduce discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, or not?"

Seventy-six percent of liberals said, "yes, new laws needed," and 67% of Democrats said the same.

However, 68% of conservatives and 70% of Republicans said, "no, not needed."

Further, for American adults who attend church weekly, 59% said no new LGBT laws are needed, and 58% of male adults said the same. In addition, 52% of adults age 50 to 64 said new LGBT laws are unnecessary, and 49% of those over age 65 said the same.

Fifty-five percent of adults who "attend church less often" and "nearly weekly/monthly" support enacting new laws for LGBT people. Sixty percent of women think that way, as do Americans age 18 to 29.

The numbers were similar on a related question. Gallup asked, "In terms of policies governing public restrooms, do you think these policies should require transgender individuals to use the restroom that corresponds with their birth gender (or should those policies) allow transgender individuals to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity?"

Birth gender refers to the biological, anatomical sex of a person at birth, male or female. Gender identity refers to the gender a person chooses to follow regardless of biology and genetics. A transgender is a person who believes they are the opposite sex  of their biology, e.g., Bruce "Caitlyn" Jenner, a biological male who thinks he is a woman and has had breast implants, hormone treatments, and had his genitalia surgically altered to look like a vagina.

In the survey responses, strong majorities of Republicans (71%), conservatives (69%), weekly church attendees (63%), and men (57%) believe that transgender persons should use the bathroom that matches their birth gender.

On the flip side, strong majorities of people who "attend church less often" (56%), as well as Democrats (63%) and liberals (72%) think transgenders should be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

The poll was conducted by telephone, May 3-7, and 1,011 adults, 18 and older, were interviewed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.


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