City to Pay $825,000 Settlement for Violating Farmer’s Religious Rights

A Michigan city has settled a lawsuit, agreeing to pay $825,000 after officials banned a local farmer from participating in a market event, citing infringement of his religious rights. The city of East Lansing has also committed to protecting the religious rights of the owners of Country Mill Farms in the future. The payment includes approximately $783,000 in lawyers’ fees and $41,000 in damages.

Earlier this year, a federal district court ruled in favor of Steve Tennes, the owner of Country Mill Farms, allowing him to continue participating in the city’s farmer’s market. This decision came after city officials had initially excluded Tennes from the market in 2017 due to his religious beliefs.

Attorney Kate Anderson, representing Tennes, stated that the court’s decision affirmed Tennes’ First Amendment right to operate his business in accordance with his faith. The settlement not only resolves the lawsuit but also allows Tennes and his family to continue operating their farm business while upholding their religious convictions.

The dispute arose from Tennes’ adherence to biblical standards, particularly regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage. He had posted on Facebook about his beliefs, prompting city officials to implement a new policy that barred him from participating in the farmer’s market.

Following the court’s ruling, it was reported that Tennes and his family had been forced to choose between their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified.

The legal battle, which spanned six years, culminated in the court’s finding that denying individuals equal rights and privileges based on their faith discourages religious activity. Country Mill Farms, a second-generation family farm spanning 120 acres in Charlotte, Michigan, has been selling organic products at the East Lansing farmers market since 2010. However, in 2017, the city began subjecting them to individual assessments for participation, leading to the legal dispute.

The resolution of the lawsuit signifies a significant victory for Tennes and his family, as it reaffirms their right to operate their farm business in accordance with their religious convictions. The case serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding the religious rights of individuals, particularly when it comes to their ability to engage in commercial activities without fear of discrimination based on their faith.

In conclusion, the outcome of this legal battle highlights the importance of protecting religious freedoms and serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of infringing upon an individual’s religious rights in commercial settings. The settlement not only provides financial compensation but also affirms the right of individuals to conduct their business in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs.

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