Missouri Family E-News

June 6, 2017

Graduate Takes Stand for Religious Freedom 

The forces of secularism and political correctness lost a well-publicized showdown last month in Southern Illinois thanks to some good old-fashioned hometown ingenuity.

On May 16th the grade school in the small town of Akin held their annual graduation ceremony.  Consistent with tradition, the ceremony was to include speeches by the valedictorian and the  salutatorian of the graduating class.

However, school officials prohibited the salutatorian, 13 year-old Seth Clark, from delivering his prepared speech as submitted because it contained religious references.

So when it came time in the program for his remarks, Seth invited those in attendance to join him across the street from the school at a neighbor's house to hear his planned presentation.

Ricky Karroll, the owner of the house, was disturbed to hear that Seth was not being allowed to speak his mind, and offered to allow Seth to speak from his front porch, and for the other students and parents to gather in his front yard.

As part of his message, Seth said:  "I'd like to thank God for all the amazing people and experiences I've had in life.  He's placed so many friends in my life and an amazing family."

"There's so much God has done for me...He's forgiven me every time I've sinned...For those of us moving up to high school, we'll face many trials for our faith and many temptations, but we can live holy with the help of God," Seth added.

Akin School District Superintendent Kelly Clark said the school had no choice but to censor Seth Clark's spiritual comments because "the United States Constitution prohibits the school district from incorporating such activities at school-sponsored events."

"Because graduation is an official, school-sponsored event, the law would prohibit incorporating prayer or worship into the schedule of events," Clark said in an official statement.

While Superintendent Clark may be familiar with the subject matters of public education, she is unfamiliar with the law, and unfortunately so are the school district's attorneys.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that graduation ceremonies may not include scheduled religious observances, such as invocations or benedictions.

On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students are free to express their thoughts in such ceremonies without editorial restrictions, and that schools cannot discriminate against the sharing of religious viewpoints.

Karroll says he believes the school district is employing a double standard.  "If the superintendent had told a Muslim they couldn't do that, the school board or the ACLU would have been jumping down their throat."

Becky Clark, Seth's mother, was ecstatic over the turn of events.  "It was the proudest moment of my life.  Seth is more courageous at the age of 13 than I am at the age of 43."

"He wasn't trying to draw attention to himself," Mrs. Clark commented.  "He just wanted to share what was on his heart about God."          
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Farm Family Faces
Discrimination for
Christian Beliefs

An organic produce farmer is suing the City of East Lansing, Michigan, for excluding him from their local farmers' market because of his support for traditional marriage.  Steve Tennes of Country Mill Orchard and Cider Mill has filed the lawsuit in federal district court claiming a violation of his rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

Tennes and his family have sold organic fruits and vegetables from their 120-acre farm at the East Lansing farmer's market for the last seven years.  However, he was told late last summer that he could no longer participate as a vendor. 

City officials took aim at Tennes and his business after receiving complaints about a post on his Facebook page last summer.  In that post, Tennes said it was the family's policy to decline the use of their orchard and a  barn on their farm for same-sex union ceremonies and receptions, because their Catholic faith teaches that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

After Tennes posted additional comments on his Facebook page in December espousing traditional marriage, the East Lansing City Council voted to expand their civil rights ordinance to include private vendors at the farmers' market.  The new language stated that vendors could not engage in discrimination based on "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" in any of their business practices.

Country Mill Orchard and Cider Mill is located in Charlotte, 22 miles east of East Lansing, and well outside the city's jurisdiction.  Yet city attorneys said that Steve Tennes and his family had retroactively violated the city's new ordinance by declining to host a same-sex ceremony in 2014.

In his December Facebook post, Tennes stated:  "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."

Tennes said he was stunned by the city's action to target his business.  "Never before would I have ever thought that the faith that we have here in our family and at our farm would prohibit us from being allowed to participate in the community."  Tennes points out that he has employed homosexuals over the years, and will sell his produce to any customer.

Tennes and his family are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom in the litigation.  "All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn't letting him," says ADF Legal Counsel Kate Anderson.  "If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook, then no American is free."  
Tennes said that he turned to the courts as a last resort.  "Americans should not be treated worse by the government simply because the government does not like the thoughts and ideas that inspire and guide their lives.  We are working to resolve this situation so our family and other Americans...are allowed to live freely and contribute to the marketplace."

Steve Tennes is a Marine veteran, and his wife is an Army veteran.  "My wife Bridget and I volunteered to serve our country in the military to protect freedom, and that is why we feel we have to fight for freedom now, whether it's Muslims', Jews', or Christians' right to believe and live out those beliefs."

Country Mill Orchard functions as a community farm where children and parents can pick their own apples, blueberries, peaches, and pumpkins.  The mission of Country Mill is "to glorify God by facilitating 'family fun on the farm' and feeding families."

Country Mill operates a food bank donation program.  In return for a $20 "share", the farm makes a donation of four bags of apples to the Greater Lansing Food Bank.  Tennes and his family also host an annual event called "Pick a Peck for People."  During this four hour event, the farm donates all the apples picked to food banks in all the surrounding communities.

Steve and Bridget are also members of the Farmers Veterans Coalition.  The group works to assist military veterans who want to enter the agricultural profession after completing their military service.

You can let the Tennes family know you are praying for them and offer words of encouragement by emailing them at mail@countrymill.com

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