Chik-fil-A or Gay?

Posted on 2012 August 9


I’ve never eaten a Chik-fil-A sandwich. It wasn’t even on my radar until recently, when Chik-fil-A chief operating officer Dan Cathy opined against gay marriage, whereupon the mayor of Boston and a Chicago alderman promised to thwart Chik-fil-A’s plans to expand into those cities.

Chik-fil-A’s ancestry was established by S. Truett Cathy, who opened a small eatery in Georgia just after World War II. Cathy then discovered and adapted a pressure fryer and used it to cook up chicken sandwiches at his first Chik-fil-A in the late 1960s. The chain grew rapidly across the South, until today its franchises are in the mid-Atlantic area, the Midwest, and out West, including California. People like those sandwiches.

Then along came the marriage controversy, and all cluck broke loose. Pro-gay groups staged “kiss-ins” at Chik-fil-A franchises, while anti-gay groups arranged counter-demonstrations.

Basically, three groups are involved. My concerns are with only one of them. Let’s take a look:

1. Chik-fil-A: The company’s C.O.O. sounded off about gay marriage, opposing it. The Cathy family is very religious; their stores are closed on Sundays; the family supports right-wing causes. At first I thought Cathy was being a dope — why alienate a lot of your patrons? — but then I realized most of Chik-fil-A’s business is in the Deep South, where his words would receive enthusiastic support. In fact, this tempest in a chicken pot might even improve sales. Now, I don’t agree with Cathy, but he has a right to his opinion. It’s a free country. (I think.)

2. Gay protesters: Angry at Cathy, LGBT groups decided to confront him where it would hurt, at the entrances to his franchises. Massed protests on private property may or may not be legal, but certainly these groups also are entitled to their opinions. As long as they don’t use force, their viewpoints can enter into the public dialog, and people are free to agree with it and even boycott Chik-fil-As, or they can take the other side and buy extra meals there.

3. Government authorities: Boston’s mayor and a Chicago legislator have made it clear they will act to ban Chik-fil-A franchises in their cities, saying Cathy’s beliefs make the company unwelcome. Here’s where I get worried. I’m all for a vigorous debate on the issues, but when people in positions of governmental power declare that a business should not operate within their jurisdictions because of the expressed opinions of one of the corporate officers, I start to feel a bit — how shall I put it? — warm with concern. Freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a bureaucrat announcing penalties against speech is, basically, breaking the law.

The ACLU agrees with me: “‘The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words,’ said Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. ‘When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.'”

After all, if the local authorities can ban businesses whose owners oppose gay marriage, they can also stop businesses whose owners support gay marriage. Or they could reject companies whose owners favor legalized marijuana. Or they could bar corporations whose CEOs oppose a popular war. And so on.

Did Cathy break the law? No. Did the LGBT demonstrators break the law? Probably not, except for the private-property thing. Did Boston’s mayor, and the Chicago alderman, break the law? Well, their public threats violate the Constitution, and how that might trickle down into local law can get complicated. The point is, they were waaay out of line.

I don’t care about an owners’ opinions: it’s a virtual certainty they and I won’t agree on many issues. If I linked their opinions to my purchasing options, I’d have nowhere to shop. What I do care about is whether I find value in their product.

We don’t banish people for having opinions that offend us. Otherwise, we’re next.

… Anyway, now I’m really curious about the sandwiches at Chik-fil-A. I wonder if they’re yummy?

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UPDATE: Chik-fil-A bows to Chicago alderman, won’t donate to anti-gay groups