It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
In East Lansing, Michigan, it isn’t quite Dickens, but it’s a veritable tale of two cities. For liberals, it is the best of times, and the city will be supportive at every turn, but for conservatives, it is the worst of times, and the city will punish you for your beliefs.
It is the worst of times for Steve Tennes, a Catholic farmer in Charlotte, Michigan, some twenty miles outside of East Lansing. While weddings are sometimes held at his Country Mill farm, as a practicing Catholic, he refers same-sex weddings to other nearby farms. In a Facebook post he said, “It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs.” The City of East Lansing disagreed. When they caught wind of his decision to exercise his religious freedom, they said he could no longer sell his produce at their farmers’ market, where he had been selling since 2010.
“It was brought to our attention that The Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s Civil Rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 Market Vendor Guidelines, as such, The Country Mill’s presence as a vendor [is] prohibited by the City’s Farmer’s Market Vendor Guidelines,” read a letter the city sent to the family, Fox News reported.
“We were surprised and we were shocked,” Tennes told Fox News. “My wife and I both volunteered to serve in the military—to protect freedom—now we come home and the freedom that we worked to protect—we have to defend in our own backyard. . . Whether you are a Jew, Muslim or Christian—people of faith should not be eradicated from the marketplace simply because they don’t share the same thoughts and ideas that the government is choosing to promote.”
Tennes is now in a legal battle with the city over his First Amendment rights. “Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing,” Tennes said at a press conference, “Nor does it have anything to do with the produce that we sell to the people that attend the farmers’ markets who are from all backgrounds and all beliefs.” As Tennes said, the problem is that the city is choosing to promote some values over others.
It is the best of times, however, for those pushing a liberal agenda, and the city is happy to give them the space to do so. At the East Lansing Public Library, children are invited to sign up for something called the “Social Justice Reading Group.” The logo is an image of little raised fists in bright, childish colors and features the tag line, “Engaging youth in critical exploration of social justice topics through children’s literature.”
The library’s website describes the regularly-held event as follows:
MSU is partnering with ELPL for a monthly Social Justice Reading Group aimed at youth ages 4 to 11 (preschool to fifth grade) held at the library. The aim of the reading group is to engage youth in critical exploration of social justice topics through children’s literature. MSU faculty with expertise in a specific social justice area will read a couple of children’s books on that month’s social justice topic (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, social class, Indigenous rights, LGBTQ, protest). After the book readings, MSU teacher candidates will facilitate small group discussions on the month’s social justice topic. Teen volunteers from the Greater Lansing Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. will assist with discussions and craft activities. Support for this program is provided by several units at MSU; the Department of Teacher Education, the College of Education, The Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies, and Lyman Briggs College. The Social Justice Reading Group is organized by MSU faculty Georgina Montgomery and Dorinda Carter Andrews.
Yes, you’re reading this correctly. A farmer will not be given space at a farmers’ market because, in accordance with his religion, he does not have same-sex weddings at his private home, but a public library in the same city will provide space for an event that teaches small children about protesting. Not only that, but this is being held at a taxpayer-funded location and supported by a taxpayer-funded university. Mr. Tennes is being ousted from the farmers’ market due to choices he made about how to use his private property.
When I first wrote about strange goings-on in public libraries, I noted, “This comes down to a public entity offering programming to indoctrinate children into a specific (and ideological) way of thinking. This isn’t about being open to a particular way of thinking, it’s about being closed to any other.” QED. The City of East Lansing could not have more proven my point better had they set out to do so. While the city is happy to indoctrinate children with left-wing rhetoric, someone who is privately conservative is being shut out of a public space, a decision which could threaten his livelihood. It is indeed the best of times and the worst of times in this city. Too bad this situation is real, not fictional.