A Michigan farm is offering a timely reminder that leaving the supernatural element of a belief system unstated doesn’t make it less of a religion and shouldn’t exempt it from prohibitions of establishing a government church. The Tennes family was blocked from repeating its annual participation in an East Lansing farmer’s market because they only wish to open their property up for marriage ceremonies in accord with their Catholic beliefs:
Another Facebook post in December 2016 said that wedding ceremonies would resume at the farm’s orchard, explaining: “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. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience.”
The message also said its religious beliefs include that all people should be treated with respect and dignity.
That post caused East Lansing officials to think Tennes’ views conflicted with the city’s view of marriage and sexual orientation, expressed in its Human Relations Ordinance. The ordinance could not be enforced against the farms. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, officials then made a new policy requiring vendors to comply with the ordinance and anti-discrimination policy “while at the market and as a general business practice.” …
When Country Mill Farms applied to participate in the 2017 farmer’s market, a city official sent a letter telling Tennes that he was prohibited from participating because he was not in compliance with the new policy. It included an attachment of his December Facebook post.
Anything called a “human relations ordinance” ought to be suspect. In the family’s religious view, marriage between a man and a woman is a unique sort of event. Declining to host same-sex marriage ceremonies therefore concerns a different sort of event. It is of the same nature as if the farm declines to host rock concerts, sweet-sixteen parties, or bar mitzvahs. There may be nothing inherently objectionable about any of these events, but this family chooses to use its property in a small way to advance its own religious beliefs.
But in the government’s religious view, there is no difference between marriage between a man and a woman and a same-sex marriage. By claiming authority over “human relations,” the government is also claiming the authority to assert its own religious preferences not only as the official policy of the area, but also as a condition of participation in government-sponsored activities.
The perversity of this scenario is that the reason we, as a society, began allowing government to edge into this sort of activity was to prevent a majority from using its position to shut out minorities. One could argue that such shutting out essentially set up a shadow government that created unwritten laws without recourse to the processes of democratic representation. That is, unable to write their discrimination into law, the powerful group agreed to bring about the same effect by other means.
That argument has, I’d say, been overwhelmed by the foreseeable abuse of a government that asserts the authority to counteract this voluntary behavior. Now, the majority is attempting to shut out a minority directly through government; indeed, the direction of discrimination is made clear in the fact that the Tennes family refers anybody who requests to use its property for ceremonies that the family doesn’t want to service to other venues. That is not the act of a powerful group attempting to exclude the powerless from society.
Instead, the majority is in the process of erasing the rules against writing discrimination into law. Its partisans just prefer their own sort of discrimination to the other.