Chick-fil-A controversy raises free speech, gay rights issues
by Janice Rael, Vice-President
Delaware Valley Americans United
for Separation of Church and State
July 31, 2012
Over the past few weeks, a huge controversy over the Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant has erupted. Chick-fil-A, a longtime supporter of Religious Right groups, was shown to have donated over $2 million dollars to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender) hate groups in 2010. According to GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation,
“Chick-fil-a’s anti-LGBT donations have been public knowledge for a while. In 2010, the company donated $2 million dollars to anti-LGBT organizations, including Exodus International, the National Christian Foundation, the Family Research Council, and the Marriage and Family Foundation. Chick-Fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy believes that marriage equality is “inviting God’s judgment;” and that our pro-LGBT culture has a “deprived mind.” The company also bans same-sex couples from its WinShape Retreat. In light of this statement, a number of individuals and groups have taken action against the company.”
While longtime activists may have already known about Chick-fil-A’s support for the Religious Right, the recent news surprised many Americans, and resulted in the Jim Henson Company pulling its Muppets toys promotion out of Chick-fil-A restaurants. In retaliation, Chick-fil-A accused the Jim Henson company of sending defective toys that the fast food store was pulling due to a “safety issue.” This huge lie resulted in a firestorm of criticism against Chick-fil-A, already under fire for the anti-gay statements made by the company’s president, Dan Cathy, who bragged in a Baptist Press interview that his company was “guilty as charged”in supporting the “biblical definition of the family unit.”
Gay-rights groups across the nation have organized demonstrations against Chick-fil-A, including protests and “same-sex kiss-ins,” while conservative media darlings showed off their support for the fast food chain by ignoring the public boycott, showing determination to push their anti-gay agenda and increase opposition to LGBT equality.
Mayors and elected officials from cities including San Fransisco, Chicago, Boston, and our own Philadelphia spoke out against the presence of Chick-fil-A stores in their areas, citing their non-discrimination policies and echoing the public sentiment that anti-gay bigotry is wrong. But civil libertarians cried foul, including our allies at the American Civil Liberties Union. The Inquisitr reports,
According to ACLU attorneys, the cities’ decisions not entirely legal and somewhat ironically, are a form of discrimination — “viewpoint discrimination”:
“The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words… 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.”
Some critics of the political opposition to Chick-fil-A asked serious questions: Do we really want government entities to deny building permits to businesses based on the religious beliefs of its owners? One pundit, Wendy N Powell, said in the Huffington Post,
“The power of our elected officials has eroded to the level of skimming our coveted First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, religion, and expression. We wonder what is next, banning of Muslims from doing business in Detroit, Jews doing business in Utah? What about Chinese restaurants? Does the city agree with their religious and political philosophies?
My philosophy is that we all have different views and convictions; live with it. Last year, President Obama held the same opinion as the president of Chick-fil-A. We have the ability to patronize who we want and who we don’t, so be it. Boycott them if you want, but we all enjoy our freedoms and that includes the ability to purchase a darn good chicken sandwich if we wish to do so.”
Natalie Hope McDonald, writing for the LGBT magazine G Philly, questions whether or not government should prohibit otherwise law-abiding businesses based on their views. She says,
“Using this same logic, mayors – however good intentioned – need to consider how not to trample essential rights. Instead of a mayor deciding to ban a business that by all accounts follows legal code (the only truly lawful reason such a business could be denied a permit), it should be up to the people (you and me) in those cities to decide if we’d like to support Chick-fil-A or not.
The good news is more and more people are coming out to boycott the chain every day – and this is a great thing for anyone who cares about gay rights and its advocates and allies. It’s also a great thing for freedom of speech. Sure, Chick-fil-A’s management can talk all they want about the Bible and gay marriage (again – their right), but others of us can also tell them to get lost by never stepping foot into their fried food chain.”
But some pro-gay-rights advocates and secularists have pointed out that agents of the Religious Right have always had the upper hand in the promotion of their anti-gay agenda. In Truth Wins Out, Warren Besen illustrates how the Religious Right has always had the louder voice in the debate over gay rights. Besen says,
“For much of American history, secular Americans were forced to abide by repressive Blue Laws, which dictated when people could drink alcohol or sell goods and services. For example, until April 2011, one could not buy alcohol in Georgia on Sundays because the states’ former governor, Sonny Perdue, was a right wing teetotaler. Even now, instead of individuals having the right to decide when they drink in Georgia, it is voted on in each county.
Given this historically despotic behavior by religious majorities, isn’t it rather hypocritical for fundamentalists to now claim that their religious freedom is threatened because Boston mayor Tom Menino is against having Chick-Fil-A open up in Boston?
“You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population,” the mayor said, with his comments echoed by the mayors of Chicago and Washington, DC.
The histrionic fundies are now pretending to be martyrs. However, I’d love to have them answer a simple question: If Gov. Perdue can use his beliefs to tell people they can’t have a cold beer on a hot summer day in Georgia, than why can’t Mayor Menino use his equally heartfelt beliefs to tell people that they can’t have a greasy chicken sandwich in Boston?
The answer is that fundies believe that religious freedom is a one-way street. For example, they can gang up on secular and religious minorities and vote for a dry county and that is “liberty.” But if voters ever decide to vote for a city free of fundie fowl, it suddenly becomes a perfidious act of religious persecution. You either adhere to their values, or they scream “victim!”
The same principles apply for marriage equality. There are religious denominations and clergy who would perform same-sex unions. However, they aren’t allowed because fundies think that their beliefs supersede both secular law and the religious freedom of others.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has not offered a comment about the Chick-fil-A controversy. As an AU chapter, DVAU strives to inform our members and supporters about all sides of this issue, from Chick-fil-A’s president’s anti-gay rhetoric and multi-million-dollar support of right-wing hate groups, to the public outcry against the restaurant for its position, to the political fallout as Chick-fil-A’s conservative values clash with modern society’s acceptance of equal rights. We present all sides to you with the question: is it proper for government to use its power to block businesses based solely on the beliefs of its owners? Shouldn’t the choice to patronize a business be left to the consumer? If we value religious freedom, what of the freedom of the conservative religious side to be as bigoted and closed-minded as it wants to be? As this controversy rages on, we have many concerns about how to balance free speech and free enterprise.
But to me, it is Besen’s conclusion that rings most true:
“Contrary to their insincere shrieks, there is no crisis of religious liberty for fundamentalist Christians. The problem is that they have been drunk on their own power for so long that they equate the exercise of religion with forcing others to live by their restrictive rules. Because they can no longer dominate, dictate, and discriminate without push-back, they are whining that they are somehow suppressed.
The truth is, Chick-fil-A should be able to open wherever it wants in the same way that I should be able to marry in any state that I want. However, as long as fundies insist on a puritanical pecking order where the “moral” majority rules, they have no basis in which to complain when they can’t have their fundie fowl in Boston. The fundies must decide if they want dominion or democracy, but it is doubtful that both ideas can co-exist in the free society they claim to cherish.”
What are your thoughts on this hot topic?