Did you know that the rainbow flag commonly associated with the LGBT movement is also sometimes called the diversity flag?
Residents of Oakwood Neighborhood in East Lansing, Michigan recently joined together to paint park steps in the area rainbow colors to “celebrate what th[e] community values.” Diversity. Thanks to the approval of the city’s Arts Commission and the Historic District Commission, the steps at Valley Court Park in East Lansing sport a rainbow pattern reminiscent of the rainbow flag.
The residents were especially excited that the steps were ready just in time for last year’s East Lansing Farmer’s Market, which the city operates in the park each year.
There’s a funny thing about the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, though. It just so happens to be the same farmers market that apparently has a problem welcoming people of all backgrounds, cultures, and faiths.
For example, the Tennes Family who owns Country Mill Farms, a long-time market vendor from a neighboring town in Michigan, believes that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman. And they explained their beliefs on their Farm’s Facebook page. When the City saw this statement on Country Mill Farms’ Facebook page, it decided to stop the seven-year veteran vendor from participating in this year’s farmers’ market.
The City decided that the Facebook statement expressed a viewpoint that violated the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. However, the City had absolutely no authority to enforce its ordinances to punish a farm 22 miles outside its city limits. So East Lansing tried to circumvent that problem by creating a new Policy for 2017 market vendors that required all vendors to comply with the nondiscrimination policy while at the market and in all of the vendor’s general business practices. This new Policy reached the vendor’s speech and activities outside of East Lansing. It was designed and adopted solely to ban Country Mill Farms from the market. And indeed Country Mill Farms was the only vendor banned by the new Policy.
For the first time in seven years, East Lansing did not invite Country Mill Farms to participate in the 2017 Market. When Country Mill Farms submitted a new application anyway, the City informed the Tennes Family that they could not participate in the Market because their Facebook post allegedly violated the new vendor Policy.
Country Mill Farms sells its apples, blueberries, peaches, cherries, sweet corn, and pumpkins to everyone who wants to buy them. In their seven-year history at the farmer’s market, no one buying their produce has ever accused them of discrimination. Indeed when East Lansing threw Country Mill Farms out of the Farmer’s Market, the City made no accusation that Country Mill Farms had ever discriminated against anyone at the Farmer’s Market or in East Lansing. The Tennes Family’s statement of their religious belief in biblical marriage was the only reason for their farms’ expulsion from the Market.
East Lansing can’t preach diversity, then turn around and discriminate against people of faith because those people hold and express views the City does not like. Country Mill Farms and its owners have a constitutional right to their religious beliefs, a millenia-old belief shared by millions of people from differing cultures. Country Mill Farms also has a constitutional right to speak out about those beliefs without fear of punishment from the government.
Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Country Mill Farms to put an end to this discrimination against speech and religion. Laws like East Lansing’s are unconstitutional because they limit the right of people to freely speak and to freely express their faith. This type of government overreach and exclusion of people of faith from the public square must end.
East Lansing is doing a disservice to its community when it refuses to tolerate multiple viewpoints, beliefs, and cultures. If the city really wants to stand for diversity, as those rainbow steps at Valley Court Park claim to represent, they can start by including Country Mill Farms in their Farmer’s Market once again.
To learn more about this case, visit the link below.