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My Take: Chick-fil-A controversy reveals religious liberty under threat
July 31st, 2012
10:36 AM ET

My Take: Chick-fil-A controversy reveals religious liberty under threat

Editor's Note: R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

By R. Albert Mohler Jr., Special to CNN

(CNN)–Cultural upheavals often occur in the most surprising contexts. Who expected that a clash between sexuality and religious liberty would be focused on a restaurant company mainly known for its chicken sandwiches?

And yet the controversy over Chick-fil-A is a clear sign that religious liberty is at risk and that this nation has reached the brink of tyrannical intolerance from at least some of our elected leaders.

The controversy ignited when Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, son of the company’s legendary founder, Truett Cathy, told a Baptist newspaper that he and his company “operate on biblical principles” and “are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”

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Defining Chick-fil-A as “a family business,” Cathy went on to say that “We intend to stay the course. … We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Media attention to Cathy’s comments revealed a radio interview he had given a few weeks earlier in which he commented that “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at (God) and say, ‘We know better than You what constitutes a marriage.'

“I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think we would have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about,” he said.

Within days, elected officials in Chicago, Boston and New York were pledging to deny the company access to their cities.

“Because of (Dan Cathy’s) ignorance, I will deny Chick-fil-A a permit to open a restaurant in my ward,” Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno said, in a threat echoed by
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was just as blunt: “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston,” he said. “We’re an open city. We’re a city at the forefront of inclusion.”

But the kind of inclusion he had in mind would evidently exclude Chick-fil-A.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who just recently married her lesbian partner, called upon New York University to kick Chick-fil-A off its campus.

9 religious companies (besides Chick-fil-A)

Echoing the Boston mayor’s lack of irony, she also called for exclusion in the name of inclusion: “We are a city that believes our diversity is our greatest strength, and we will fight anything and anyone that runs counter to that.”

Within days, Moreno, Emanuel and Menino had qualified their statements somewhat, promising to operate within the law and constitutional limits. Those clarifications became necessary when legal authorities quickly recognized threatened violations of First Amendment rights.

To his credit, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage, warned, “You can’t have a test for what the owner’s personal views are before you decide to give a permit to do something in the city.”

Note carefully that Chick-fil-A was not charged with discrimination in hiring or service but simply with the fact that its president and chief operating officer supports traditional marriage.

Note something else: Dan Cathy’s statements were explicitly religious. He made his comments to the religious press, including a Baptist newspaper. His comments were infused with his Christian convictions, the same convictions that have led the company to close for business every Sunday.

The threats made against Chick-fil-A betray the principle of religious liberty that is enshrined within the U.S. Constitution. Civic officials in some of the nation’s largest and most powerful cities have openly threatened to oppose Chick-fil-A for the singular reason that its president openly spoke of his Christian convictions concerning marriage.

When Quinn, one of the most powerful officials in New York, announces, “I do not want establishments in my city that hold such discriminatory views,” is she also threatening the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques?

They, along with evangelical Christian denominations, openly oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. Cathy’s statements are completely consistent with his own denomination’s statement of faith and official declarations. He was speaking as a Christian and as a Southern Baptist, and he was speaking as a man who does his best to live and speak as he believes.

Christian groups allege threats to religious freedom in anti-Chick-fil-A campaigns

When Emanuel and Moreno tell Chick-fil-A to stay out of Chicago, are they audacious enough to deliver that same message to the churches, mosques and synagogues of their city that also oppose same-sex marriage? What do they do with the fact that their own state does not allow same-sex marriages?

This country is deeply divided over the issue of same-sex marriage, and the controversy over Chick-fil-A is an ominous sign that many of the proponents of same-sex marriage are quite willing to violate religious liberty and to use any and all means to silence and punish any individual or organization that holds the contrary view – a view sustained by the voters in 29 states by constitutional amendments.

Addressing the intersection of same-sex marriage and religious liberty, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has warned that the government must not be “viewed as unfairly trying to pre-determine the debate or harass one side.”

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That is exactly what some elected officials have just shown themselves ready to do. It will not stop with Chick-fil-A. Who will be next to be told to get out of town?

Disclosures:

I know Dan and Truett Cathy and other members of the Cathy family. Truett has spoken on our campus. I have prayed at the opening of multiple Chick-fil-A locations. I serve on the board of directors of Focus on the Family, which has been supported by Chick-fil-A. My son, Christopher, is a part-time service employee of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant in Louisville. I have not communicated with Chick-fil-A about this column.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of R. Albert Mohler Jr.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Homosexuality • Opinion • Religious liberty

soundoff (3,216 Responses)
  1. blahblahblah

    I've eaten at Chick-fil-a once, it was ok, but all this talk is making me want to go back again, and again. Keep up the free advertisements, liberals :D.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Ethan

      Don't know what you're talking about... this is about the worst PR a company can get.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • RCC

      @ ethan – I disagree. This story is bringing in biz for Chick Fil A and making atheists and LGBTs look more like communists.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • LoveChicken

      RCC is correct, this "debate" is making liberals and "gays" look like intolerant nazis, which means they are showing their true colors..........

      July 31, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • James PDX

      Everytime something like this happens, people rally to support the alleged victim for a short while and business picks up. Then those supporters go back to their normal lives and all of the lost customers are revealed as profits drop. We've seen it a hundred times.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  2. Cal Zoan

    I will not boycott them and I like gay people. I just don't share the same beliefs as the chicken guy.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • James PDX

      I don't have a problem with him espousing these beliefs. But I have a problem with him using lots of the company profits to support anti-gay organizations. So I'll boycott.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  3. Robin Bray

    Using Jesus to make money for a private business. How pathetic. They are too stupid to realize that this disgusts non gays also. Jesus would also be stunned by this behaviour.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  4. Richard Williams

    Amazing that these religious bigots once used the same bible to defend their support of slavery. They claimed that Ham, son of Noah was black and that in Genesis 9:25-27 Noah cursed Ham's descendants to slavery making it OK to own other human beings.

    There is no attack on religion. There is a fully justified effort to stop today's generation of religious bigots from denying a group their equal rights,

    July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • RCC

      Illogical – disagreeing with someone's lifestyle does not make you a bigot.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @RCC: They aren't "disagreeing". They are supporting and spreading an ancient hatred that, in these enlightened times, is recognized for the ugliness that it is.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • RCC

      Not supporting gay marriage is not hatred. And there is nothing"enlightened" about these times – don't htink we are any better now than 1000 yrs ago.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • James PDX

      Disagreeing with their lifestyle may not make you a bigot, but trying to oppress them and deny them equal civil rights does.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  5. Agapatos

    Stand up and be courageous, Chick-fil-A. They've got nothing on you!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Ethan

      They should just come out and say they hate black people too, right?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • James PDX

      They should really stop hiring women. The Bible tells us that women are the root of all evil and belong at home making babies.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  6. RCC

    All liberties are at risk under our current government. Put political and religious views aside for a moment and think about the elected that are running this country. Do you really think any of them are concerned about freedom and equaliy for all? If you do, you are quite naive.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • RCC

      It took me about 20 tries to post the above comment. Any language that seemed to label eleted government as c r i m i n a l or cor rupt was problematic.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Maybe God is trying to tell you that your thoughts are crooked.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  7. Mark

    I love the contradiction from these troglodytes. They chastise the beliefs of traditional religion and then demand that you accept their value system. The traditional view resonates closer with nature: evolution took the risk laden approach to create two antonymous and independent creatures to sustain and continue life. To force feed us the view the gay marriage is the equivalent as traditional marriage is to say that there is nothing unique nor nothing to be celebrated in the union of make and female. I don’t care how you feel about this fact because the facts stand independent of your feelings. The left is the religion of Nice but not good. Nice an act or experience while good is an action. To the left: keep your irrational religious views to yourself.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Joanie

      And the right is the religion of hypocrisy, bigotry, and hatred.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Please refrain from trying to force the universe into your narrow construct of meaningful experience. You might rest easier.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • James PDX

      Mark, congratulations. Your post was Biblical, in that it sounded a lot like what one would expect at the Tower of Babel after God decided he wanted man to kill each other in war rather than work in perfect harmony.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  8. Aine57

    Let Chick-fil-A open wherever they wish. Let those who would boycott them do so. The profits will show whether Chick-fil-A remains. The owners have a right to believe whatever they wish, as do those protesting them. At issue is not freedom of religion but freedom to prevent your dollars from funding businesses which use such monies to advocate against what you believe, in this case, freedom to marry.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Alejandra M

      You were the 1st person who posted that made real sense. Thank you.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  9. Ethan

    "Religious liberty under threat"

    Yeah, they said the same things when slave-owners said they couldn't have slaves. All people heard then was a bunch of bible quotes saying how slavery was allowed because the bible said so:

    Jefferson Davis: "[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation...it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts."

    AND

    "African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing."

    There is a BIG difference between religious liberty and religious justifications of injustice. Gay marriage is being trounced on now by religion, yet when time has passed hundreds of years from now, quotes from people about how gay marriage is horrible because the bible says so will be looked upon as being just as stupid as the quote from Jefferson Davis above.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Thank you Ethan.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • James PDX

      Maybe even more stupid since it happened in the 21st century when people should know better.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  10. Sam Yaza

    everything out side past the for gospels are catholic Dogma, everything before the gospels are the old covenant,.. both of which christens say they don't follow when you bring up something they don't agree with,.. ether all the word of god,..then you end up in jail,.. or all the words of the gospel,..then you end being a commie liberal,..but um did Christ say go and sin no more,..then that means you still need to follow the law,..then that means you should all be in jail,..i guess your not really Christians,..or your hypocrites,..or a ham and cheese sandwich is greater then your god

    July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  11. Melanie

    Dial back 4\50 years and you will find the same crowd claiming a religious basis for discriminating against African Americans.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Not the same. That is a horrible comparison. You are obviously not black, so do not comment on something you do not understand.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @Mr. Jones: coo coo

      July 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • n

      don't even compare the plight of african americans with that...you do realize some people think that being gay is a CHOICE. I could care less...in fact, I have gay friends....and black friends..I also have black friends that are opposed to gay marriage and black friends that are gay....and all would tell you that you are wrong in making the comparison.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • James PDX

      It's an apt analogy. Minorities are minorities and equal rights are equal rights. Thinking your rights are more important than someone else's is the height of hypocrisy.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  12. Paul

    So when religious group set out boycotts of companies (i.e. Starbucks, J.C. Pennys, Disney) it is taking a moral high ground but when the shoe is on the other foot it is threatening religious freedom? Let's get one thing clear, the issue is not what the president of CFA said, it is the fact that his company has donated millions of dollars and services to groups that not only want to deny gays the right to marry, but any type of freedom at all. No partner benifits, no adoptions, no freedom from harrasment etc. Mr. Cathy has a right to speak his beliefs and most Americans appreciate that. It is the fact that he is using his company's profits to espouse hatred that determines whether people want to shop at his establishments or not. Please quit making him an innocent victim in this.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      The issue isn't about boycotts – that's your privilege.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      the Gospel of Betty Bowers

      1 Betty 1 1-3
      blessed is the christian who criticizes others faith, for we call this love.
      cursed are those who return the favor, for we call this persecution
      Aprada

      July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Steve

      100% agree.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  13. Howard

    The media for some reason insist that we care about this story. Each franchise is individually owned and operated. The man expressed his religious opinion and all these people with an agenda are in an uproar.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  14. RCC

    The forum wont post my comment about politicans.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • jungleboo

      No, dear. GOD is preventing you from expressing yourself, so go to bed and get some sleep. Maybe you will think differently tomorrow if you are well-rested.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  15. who cares

    God goes to Wendys for its chicken sandwiches

    July 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      And arbys for his shakes

      July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  16. Enrique

    Didn't Baptists supported slavery in the name of God. Fundamentalist Christians think they are going to use their Bibles to created inequality. Nobody is making any religious group married gay people if they are oppossed. This is about civil marriage and equality under the law not under "I am obedient to the lord" crowd.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  17. indogwetrust

    And why are the religious right so mad when we stick up for what everyone knows deep down is right?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Because they can't stand being on the wrong track, when they were so sure that it was the right track.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  18. twinelms

    Well said, Dr. Mohler. Who would have guessed that the American right of freedom of speech and religion would be threatened. What's next, denial of the right of our Christisn churches to assemble and worship? Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is sovereign and foreordaines all things. These are the same rights that were denied the German reformed church in Hitler's Germany of the 1930s. The Founding Fathers would have been appalled.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      Love that. Nazis nazis nazis. You know how quick you people are to use this scare tactic?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • midwest rail

      @ twinelms – utter nonsense.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      How about terrorist. You keeping that scare up your sleeve?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • sososam

      what about the part in the Good Book that says, Judge not, lest ye be judged?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      Amen!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • GAW

      Many Evangelical leaders should welcome a little bit of persecution which may be able to separate out the faithful from casual believers.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Religion belongs in your head.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  19. indogwetrust

    Why do Christians believe that without religion to control people that we will have chaos?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • sharky

      People still exist.

      Communist countries lack religion, you think those are awesome places to live? You think no one died or was killed.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      Huh? A scare tactic that makes no sense.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  20. Severinus

    You have the right to follow whatever religion you wish. No one is infringing your right to do that. However, freedom of religion does not give you the right to discriminate or to force your religion on others. When you use religion as an excuse to advocate for policy changes that are discriminatory, you have to expect people to call you on it. This is about Chick-Fil-A spending corporate dollars to take away people's civil rights and nothing more. You can't use "it's my religion" as an excuse to shut down criticism.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • sharky

      So, the Government takes away your rights all the time, you still provide taxes. LOL

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Heather

      Very well said, I couldn't agree more!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.