Religious freedom lawsuit against East Lansing attracts national media attention
However, the city has not spoken to any national media outlets, Assistant to the City Manager Eilis Seide confirmed via email. Seide did state both city staff and city council have “received a large volume of communication from people around the Country opposed to the Farmer’s Market Policy.”
Stephen Tennes, owner of The Country Mill, appeared on Fox News Thursday to discuss the lawsuit filed on his behalf by Alliance Defending Freedom which claims the City of East Lansing barred him from the Farmer’s Market solely for his religious beliefs.
Tennes and ADF legal counsel Kristen Waggoner outlined the events surrounding the lawsuit to The Story with Martha MacCallum anchor Sandra Smith. Tennes affirmed his beliefs on marriage and their belief that the city “developed this new policy specifically to bar (his) farm.”
“It’s a violation of their Constitutional rights for the city government to force them to give up their ability to make a livelihood and give up their religious beliefs if they don’t agree with what the city says,” Waggoner said on the show.
Waggoner added further that it was the city who was “engaging in the discrimination and telling them they can’t serve everyone at the farmer’s market.”
City Manager George Lahanas and Mayor Mark Meadows have both denied the claim that it is Tennes’ beliefs that caused them to be barred from the market, insisting instead it was their general business practice of not holding both same-sex and opposite sex weddings on their property.
“It’s the business that’s making the application, not the individuals,” Meadows said in an interview mid-day Thursday. “It has nothing to do with their personal beliefs whatsoever, they are entitled to have those.”
Waggoner told Smith she believes the Tennes family will be vindicated through the courts saying that “the right to believe is meaningless if it doesn’t come with the right to act, to live out those beliefs and that’s what's at stake here.”
Furthermore, Waggoner said the city would be imposing an extreme view on Tennes outside the city’s borders in the form of a punishment which she said the Supreme Court labels as unconstitutional.
Fox News ran two additional stories on the situation, including a basic news article and a column by titled "City: You can't sell blueberries unless you affirm gay marriage."
While the city has not communicated with national media, the story has slowly made its way into the national stream. The Washington Post ran a story by Religious News Services about the lawsuit and the popular right leaning website Breitbart News has garnered over 1,707 comments on its story.
Progressive, conservative, Christian and Catholic blogs have picked up the story as well, including The Blaze, conservative pundit Glenn Beck's website. The Blaze story had garnered over 250 comments by 11 a.m. Monday.