Another week, another win for the First Amendment.
In 2017, the city of East Lansing, Michigan, barred Country Mills Farms owner Steve Tennes from participating in a public farmer’s market. The issue began in 2016 when Tennes posted on Facebook that his farm would not host a same-sex wedding due to his religious beliefs, but he would refer couples to other venues that would accommodate them.
When the city discovered this, they instituted rules that effectively banned Tennes from the market, which resulted in a lawsuit. The city was ordered to reinstate him in 2017 while his case moved forward. On Monday, a federal district judge ruled in favor of Tennes, finding that the city violated his constitutionally protected freedom of religion.
“[They] were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified,” the judge wrote, saying that this violates their First Amendment “free exercise rights. The reason is simple: denying a person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens because of her faith discourages religious activity.”
This would be a different story if this were a private market, as the market owner would have the right to uninvite anyone whose values they disagreed with. However, the First Amendment requires that the government be viewpoint-neutral and not discriminate against Americans for their opinions or religious views.
By banning Tennes from the market, the government violated his property rights as well as the First Amendment, which protects a person’s freedom to hold their own religion and values.
Tennes has the right to express his views and beliefs on his private property. While his reasoning may be irrational, as there is nothing immoral about a same-sex wedding, it is still his property, and no one has any right to force him to use it in a way that goes against his values.
Imagine if a t-shirt designer was barred from a public event by the government because he refused to design a shirt saying “life begins at conception.” Whether a potential customer agrees with his pro-abortion views or not, the government does not have the right to punish this vendor for his personal views or what types of t-shirts he decides to make.
Ultimately, business owners must be allowed to use their judgment to determine how they run their businesses without the threat of government interference. Every company has to discriminate in one way or another, whether in hiring and firing decisions, prioritizing the needs and demands of customers, or setting conduct policies for those involved in business with them, to name a few examples.
Anti-discrimination laws imposed by the government on private businesses conflict with this ability and violate their property rights and right to act on their judgment. (Besides, why would anyone want to get married on a farm owned by someone who doesn’t support their union?)
Like Tennes has the right to refuse to host the wedding, anyone who disagrees with his business practices can take their business elsewhere and financially support a farmer who shares their values. He must accept the results of his choices. If he doesn’t want their business and wants to take a financial loss because of his religion, let him do so.
The long-term consequences may or may not change his decision not to judge his clients as individuals. However, it is not the government’s job to favor some citizens’ opinions over others—in fact, that’s exactly what the kind of abuse the First Amendment was designed to prevent.
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