Sunday, September 17, 2017

Farmer's Market Must Issue Vendor's Permit To Orchard That Refuses To Host Same-Sex Weddings

In Country Mill Farms, LLC v. City of East Lansing, (WD MI, Sept. 15, 2017), a Michigan federal district court issued a preliminary injunction requiring a Michigan city to allow an orchard owner to sell produce at its Farmer's Market even though he refuses on religious grounds to host same-sex weddings at his orchard.  After Country Mill posted its policy against hosting same-sex weddings on its Facebook page, the city amended its Farmer's Market Vendor Guidelines to require all vendors to comply with the city's civil rights ordinances not only at the Farmer's Market, but "as a general business practice." It denied Country Mill a vendor's license because of non-compliance with the public accommodation law which, among other things, prohibits publishing a statement that indicates a business will discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The court found that Country Mill had shown a substantial likelihood of success on its First Amendment retaliation claim: The city took action chilling the orchard owner's speech about his religious beliefs. Plaintiff also showed a likelihood of success on his free exercise claim:
The context in which the Vendor Guidelines were amended and then applied to Country Mill supports Plaintiffs’ claim that their religious beliefs or their religiously motivated conduct was the target of the City’s actions.... [T]he City’s hostility to Plaintiffs’ religion or religious conduct was ... manifested when the City used its facially neutral and generally applicable ordinance to deny Plaintiffs’ Vendor Application.
ADF issued a press release on the decision, with links to some of the other pleadings in the case.