Graduate Takes Stand for Religious Freedom
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.
school officials prohibited the salutatorian, 13 year-old Seth Clark,
from delivering his prepared speech as submitted because it contained
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.
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
can let the Tennes family know you are praying for them and offer words
of encouragement by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org