City Will Not Appeal Order Restoring Vendor to Farmers' Market

Wednesday, September 20, 2017, 7:50 am
By: 
Alice Dreger and Ann Nichols

Above: Protesters gathered in front of the Country Mills booth at the market last Sunday.

On the recommendation of City Attorney Tom Yeadon, East Lansing’s City Council decided last night not to appeal the federal court's preliminary decision in a lawsuit brought against the City by a farmers’ market vendor. As ELi reported last week, federal Judge Paul Maloney granted the plaintiff injunctive relief by ordering East Lansing to let the vendor return to the market pending the ultimate outcome of the case.

In the case, Country Mills, owned by the Tennes family, alleges that the City is violating their religious and free-speech rights by trying to keep them out of the market. The City insists it is only refusing to do business with Country Mills because the business violates the City’s Civil Rights ordinance by refusing to host same-gender weddings at Country Mills’ orchard in Charlotte, Michigan.

The result of the injunction is that Country Mills will continue to be allowed to show up and sell products at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market for the remainder of the market season, through October 29. The City Attorney said last night that appealing the injunction wouldn’t be worth what it would cost—about $30,000-$50,000 in additional legal fees. He also suggested it would likely take longer to appeal the decision than there are weeks left in the market.

Following the judge’s decision on the injunction last week, Country Mills came back to the market this past Sunday. Supporters and protestors made appearances, but the market remained relatively calm.

At City Council last night, Yeadon called the judge’s recent decision “rather disappointing.” He said the plan was still to defend the City’s position and to explain to the judge that the City’s actions are “not about religious belief or speech, but are just about discriminatory business practices.”

Mayor Mark Meadows supported Yeadon's opinion, saying that he was “not sure we can afford an appeal at this time.” He said if had been a suit brought by the City, he “might feel differently.” He said he hoped the discovery process in the lawsuit “will help the judge make the right decision at some point.”

After Council’s meeting last night, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier said she wanted it on the record that, “If this farm did not allow interracial couples to marry, nobody would raise an eyebrow when the City said ‘you’re not invited to our market because you discriminate against interracial couples.’ But because it’s same-sex couples, you’re allowed to discriminate?”

She added, “I don’t think people would be sending us hateful messages if it were a race issue.”

Council continues to receive many messages objecting to the City’s decision to change its market policy to keep out vendors who violate its Civil Rights policy through their businesses. The vast majority of these messages come from outside East Lansing.

A message included in City Council’s packet this week from Alan Johnson of Ishpeming, Michigan, states, “Shame on those of your council who support penalizing the Tennes [owners of Country Mills] because they believe in the sanctity of Biblical marriage.”

Johnson continues, “All I can say is they are a bunch of whining, whimpy [sic], sniveling crybaby socialists. Maybe they should pick up their footballs and go home (or perhaps Canada). I’m sure the citizens of your community will really appreciate wasting their money defending this idiotic council rule.”