Discrimination, Intolerance, and Chick-fil-A

by Stephanie Brown,
Writing Intern 

Dan Cathy, President and Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A, recently told the press, “We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.” Straight families, that is. The restaurant has been making headlines since Cathy’s statement last month that Chick-fil-A is “guilty as charged” of actively opposing marriage equality.

His remarks come at a time when the US is poised on the brink of a major step forward for marriage equality. The court case challenging California’s Proposition 8, which denied gay couples the right to marry, has already been settled twice in favor of marriage equality and is expected to meet a similar ruling in the US Supreme Court.

A host of popular companies have “come out” in support of marriage equality, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Oreo, and Ben & Jerry’s. Cathy insists that, just like these pro-marriage companies, Chick-fil-A is simply standing up for what its owners believe in. “Thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles,” Cathy said in an interview with Baptist Press.

Recently, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino released a public letter to Cathy asking him not to establish a Chick-fil-A in Boston because the business would be “an insult to [same-sex couples] and to our city’s long history of expanding freedom.” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee expressed his agreement by posting on Twitter that the “closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away” and recommending “that they not try to come any closer.”

Those who stand with Chick-Fil-A have been quick to condemn these and other negative responses from marriage equality supporters as “intolerant.” Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin accused Menino of “engaging in blatant viewpoint and religious discrimination” and reaffirmed “the right of Chick-fil-A supporters to organize social media campaigns, exercise their free speech and exercise the power of their pocketbooks to back the company.”

Even some supporters of marriage equality took pause, cautioning that while they appreciated the show of support, allowing public officials to deny businesses access to certain cities because of the business owner’s beliefs sets a dangerous precedent. Legally, no politician has the right to ban a business from a city because of the beliefs of the people who own that business. Attempting to do so violates the business owner’s right to express his opinions freely. Accordingly, Menino has since recanted his threat to ban Chick-fil-A from Boston, stating that while he opposes the move personally, he has not pressured the landlord of the intended location because “that would be interference to [Cathy’s] rights to go there.”

Although Menino has acknowledged his error, the intense media coverage garnered by the controversy has brought to the forefront a longstanding issue in the battle for civil rights: what is discrimination, and where do you draw the line between protection of one person’s rights and suppression of another’s? Mike Huckabee, the 44th Governor of Arkansas, wrote that the current anti-Chick-fil-A campaign is being fueled by “vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry from the left.” He is backed by hundreds of other Chick-fil-A supporters who claim that the LGBTQ community and its allies are hypocritically practicing discrimination.

First, even public officials like Menino have the same right to their opinions that Dan Cathy and all of his supporters have. Second, those who favor marriage equality are not simply protesting Cathy’s expression of his beliefs about marriage.

Cathy’s statement brought media attention to Chick-fil-A’s history, which reveals much more than just “support of the traditional family.” The Huffington Post reports that the company “has donated at least $5 million to organizations including a certified hate group (emphasis added) that, among other things, depict gay people as pedophiles, want to make ‘gay behavior’ illegal, and even say gay people should be ‘exported’ out of America.’” Such actions are not the peaceful expression of a belief; they are an organized attack on the LGBTQ community and, as such, constitute active discrimination.

Menino, on the other hand, wrote in his letter that he made the decision to keep Chick-fil-A out of Boston “on the heels of [Cathy’s] prejudiced statements” against the LGBTQ community. Menino explained that “there is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail.” He was not rejecting Chick-fil-A’s business because of its membership in a group (if those who oppose marriage equality can be called a “group”), or even because Chick-fil-A holds certain beliefs. He was rejecting their business because they have chosen to act on those beliefs in ways that are harmful to a significant portion of the American population.

Menino’s threat to actually ban Chick-fil-A from Boston overstepped legal bounds, as he has since admitted. But his fervent opposition to the business’s presence in Boston does not mean that he was “engaging in blatant viewpoint and religious discrimination” against people who support “the traditional family.” Menino spoke out in an attempt to protect citizens from the damaging effects of the organizations that Chick-fil-A supports.

We are a nation built on equality, and that means respecting each other’s right to hold different beliefs, but no person or business has the right to use their beliefs as justification for limiting the freedoms of other people. Menino may have infringed upon Chick-fil-A’s rights by trying to ban the business from Boston, but Chick-fil-A violates the rights of LGBTQ Americans everyday by encouraging practices that cause physical and emotional harm to that community. Such practices are certainly something we should seek to ban.

On August 3, those who support LGBTQ rights countered “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” by celebrating Kiss Day outside the restaurant. Read more here.

Thousands of people continue to boycott Chick-fil-A. And starting today, people who like Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches but dislike the business’s discriminatory policies can buy “chicken offsets” that donate money to LGBTQ rights organizations. Learn more here.

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Title photo credit: WOWKTV