July 30th, 2012
02:54 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
The nation’s biggest evangelical group said Monday that religious freedom is threatened by American mayors who say Chick-fil-A is not welcome in their cities because of the restaurant leader’s opposition to gay marriage.
“Individuals have the right to decide whether or not to ‘eat mor chikin.’ But no government leader should restrict a business or organization from expanding to their district based on the personal or political views of the owners,” Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said Monday.
“Such evident discrimination and attempts to marginalize those with religious values have no place in American democracy,” Anderson said.
The National Association of Evangelicals is the country’s largest evangelical umbrella group, representing 45,000 local churches from 40 denominations.
Last week, a handful of mayors urged Chick-fil-A to stay out of their cities after the chain’s president, Dan Cathy, weighed in on same-sex marriage by saying his company backs the traditional family unit.
"Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, said last week. “They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members."
San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted last week: "Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer."
Those comments and other criticisms have prompted conservative Christian groups to rally to the restaurant’s side.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has called for a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" on Wednesday, while former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin tweeted a picture of her and her husband holding Chik-fil-A takeout bags last weekend.
"I have been incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick-fil-A company because the CEO, Dan Cathy, made comments recently in which he affirmed his view that the Biblical view of marriage should be upheld," Huckabee, a Republican and former pastor, wrote in a Facebook posting announcing the Wednesday event.
More than 300,000 people have accepted Huckabee's Facebook invitation to participate in the event.
Evangelical groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council have also urged their followers to see campaigns against Chick-fil-A as threats to religious freedom.
“For the government to engage in viewpoint discrimination is not only bad politics - it's unconstitutional,” the Family Research Council said in an e-mail to supporters last week. “Chick-fil-A may be a private company, but that doesn't mean it has to surrender its beliefs at the dining room door.”
“Under the First Amendment, executives at Chick-Fil-A are just as entitled as any American to speak publicly about their views,” the statement continued.
– CNN's Sarah Aarthun contributed to this report.
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