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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. Ben

    This author is absolutely incorrect in saying that "[Cathy] was speaking as a Christian and as a Southern Baptist." Cathy was speaking as the leader of a business in the United States. Cathy says "we" a lot in those statements. He is not talking about he and his wife. He is not using the term "we" to refer to himself. He is saying "we" as in "Chick-Fil-A" – as the owner.

    It is perfectly okay that certain people and places do not want a business who donates large sums of money to political organizations who are intolerant of other people to stay out of their neighborhoods. It is perfectly okay that certain people and places boycott because of their personal beliefs. These things are perfectly okay because it is perfectly okay that Chick-Fil-A chooses to make, what I think, are bigoted, insensitive, and absurdly out-dated remarks about family life – because it is what they believe. It's perfectly okay for me to think that, no matter how wrong anyone thinks I am to say it.

    When George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley "warned that the government must not be 'viewed as unfairly trying to pre-determine the debate or harass one side' " – did you bother to think that elected officials do this all the time with EVERY ISSUE. They debate and debate and debate, knowing full well which way they will vote on the issue long before they ever bring the issue up for a debate. This is nothing new and nothing to write home about.

    My thoughts on the matter are this: If churches want to play politics like businesses, then they need to be taxed like the businesses that give money to it as well.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  2. RandalH

    Discrimination cannot and should not be allowed to hide behind the shield of "religious freedom." Just like people were outraged by the recent news story where a black couple in Mississippi was denied the opportunity to be married in a "historically white" church, those who suuport gay marriage have every right to voice their disapproval for the statements made by Cathy. Those who feel strongly enough have every right to call for a boycott of Chick-fil-A as economic leverage is the only methodology consumers have of exacting change in corporate America.

    Lets be clear about one thing, Mr. Mohler. Discrimination is wrong regardless of whether or not it has been codified by 29 states. Rights are not subject to referendum nor are they granted solely by majority vote. This nation was founded upon the principle of certain inalienable rights. Government exists under the precept that ALL are equal under the law.

    That said, I will grant that the actions of certain government officials are both over-the-top and out of line. In fact, the most extreme cases (many of which I see were conveniently handpicked by the author) would establish a dangerous precedent for government. Trying to superimpose that danger onto a boycott of Chick-fil-A by John Q. Citizen, however, is a gross exaggeration that takes the argument into the realm of logical fallacy. Dan Cathy exercised his right to free speech and articulated his idea of both religious freedom and how he feels America should be. That doesn't obligate the rest of America to agree with either his statement or his vision. Those choosing to do so have every right to put their money where their mouth and beliefs are and act in a way that ensures it never finds Cathy's pocket and to send the message that we, as a society, will not sit idly by while discrimination, intolerance and hate are trotted out behind the veil of religious freedom.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • unbelievable

      what about discrimination shielded by the mantra of "civil rights?"

      July 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  3. Wendy

    Politicians want to keep us at eachothers throats so we wont notice them destroying this country. Respect eachother and we can have civilized dialogue to iron out our diffferences. Free speech is a two way street people.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  4. jjw903

    Ethan if you do not think there is hate in your post, you need to be honest with yourself and re read it. I was reading an article about the shortage in the blood supply ( because I am a trauma nurse) and the possibility of reversing the decision to let the gay community donate, This gay guy said " I would never donate blood anyway because I would not want it to go to save the life on a conservative. In all the years I have donated blood it has never ever entered my mind to think, gee i hope my blood does not go to save someone gay or liberal or anyone else who thinks differently than me. It gave real insight in how much your community hates conservative christians and posts like yours only continue to prove me right

    July 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • RCC

      Yep – ethan's post are telling. He is officially what we call a d o u c h e bag

      July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  5. RCC

    What is it with people that equate to differing beliefs to bigotry? So liberals are bigoted against conservatives? Miracle whip users are bigtoed against mayo users? What a failed argument from the beginning.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  6. Ed Brock

    I disagree 100 percent with Dan Cathy's position on gay marriage, and I think this article exagerates the supposed threat against religious liberty entailed by the over reaction of officials in Chicago and Boston. But I also think Emanuel and company are way out of line, as are many members of the gay community who are so up at arms about Cathy's statements. Their over sensitive protests opened the door to people like Mohler, to the point where I almost (almost) agree with him. I disagree with Cathy's position, but it is absolutely his right to hold it and promote it, and it will not factor into my decision to eat at his restaurants. If others choose not to, that's their right, too, but to attack and threaten him in the way that's been done is a disservice to supporters of gay marriage.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • unbelievable

      THANK YOU! Brilliant Post

      July 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  7. indogwetrust

    STOP attacking this guys Religious bigotry.... er ahhh i meant freedom.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  8. Sebastian Earl

    I agree with J Gaston. The Cathy family is not just expressing their beliefs but perpetuating hatred, intolerance and bigotry, and using the same old grossly egoistic argument that they somehow know what "god's will" is. Go ahead, quote the bible at me, but there are so many ways to interpret the meaning of any words, much less religious ones. Mr Cathy says we are wrong to disagree with God on the definition of marriage, but once again if you read the bible, and as Jon Stewart so well demonstrated on his show, there are many definitions of marriage in the Bible that we would not adhere to today....once again, Christians find quotes in the Bible to justify their prejudice, hate and bigotry.

    If the Cathy's had said the same thing about inter-racial marriage they would be pilloried. And for good reason.

    Thankfully we don't live in a religious nation.......if we did, none of us would have the freedoms that we enjoy today.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • ava

      Actually Sebastian, the Bible is very clear about the context of marriage, what it is, what it is not, what is permitted, and what isn't. If you're referring to the context of marriage when comparing the old vs. the new testament then yes, you would absolutely be correct by noticing the differences, because they are there. So, what does this mean? Does the Bible contradict itself? And if so, does this mean God is contradicting His thoughts on marriage? These are important questions to ask, and ones that unbiased theologians have researched for centuries. Because the truth is nobody wants to believe in anything that blatantly contradicts itself. I would encourage you to read up on what these people have discovered regarding the context of culture, marriage, and the differences therein between the old covenant and the new. You would be surprised. I'm not asking you to "believe" in God. I'm simply suggesting that some research into the matter will give this far more context than a late night TV host.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  9. sean

    What is up with you people down there? Who freakin' cares. Live and let live for al of our sakes and leave your silly god in your churches . Believe if you want but keep it to yourselves. You're becoming as pathetic as the ill-educated middle eastern countries you're so afraid of. The western world is aghast at your silliness.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  10. Donald

    Wow... GayNN actually shows a differing view!... a view of half of America.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • RCC

      Now that was funny – a little levity in these forums is always good.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  11. Fritz Hohenheim

    I'm a very teeny tiny businessman myself, a one man corporation, but even I have quickly learned that you don't run around and shove your religious views down your customer's throat. If that dude hasn't learned that yet, being one of the richest men in the States, he has brought all that ruckus on himself and I have no feeling of compassion for him. Stupid is as stupid does!

    July 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Henryo

      So you are okay with gays shoving the gay agenda down your throat? Or are you just a hypocrite?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  12. Engineer in Raleigh

    Here's an idea – if you don't want people messing with you, don't mess with them. If this were about race, we wouldn't eve be having this discussion. Your rights end where someone else's nose begins. Why is that so hard for contemptible hicks like Mr Mohler to understand?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  13. JohnK

    This hypocritical argument never fails to amaze me. When the president of Chik-Fil-A is criticized for his desire to deny gays the right to marry, he and his right-wing supporters call the criticism "religious intolerance".

    I won't even comment on the ridiculous argument that "God" only approves of traditional male-female marriage. Did he talk to him personally?

    Religious fanatics always LOVE to tell other people how to live their lives.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Henryo

      Typical gay drama queen, twisting words like a dagger. He just said he supports the Biblical definition of marriage, not all that dramas-queen crap you're saying he said. Just sit your a** down.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  14. snoozie

    As long as he has not used his views to discriminate in hiring or to evangelize his customers, I think he is within his rights to say whatever he wants to about Christianity. And, people who are against that can boycott the restaurant. But, I don't think any city should prevent him from opening a store because of his views. And I am left-wing, liberal dem.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      You may be a liberal dem... but you're a terrible reader. For politicians to say that this wingnuts business is "not welcome"
      in their particular area doesn't mean that there is a law preventing that business from actually putting one of their "restaurants" in that area. It just means that they're not welcome there. There is a difference.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Megakarl

      Lucifer,

      “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.

      It isn't just about not supporting. It's actively preventing them from opening a business.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Paul

      Thank you

      July 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  15. sam

    Can you see the pattern with Abrahamic religions, especially off the wall ones like evangelicals? They are insane. Really crazy, and of course they have no clue how crazy they really are. They are actually dangerous.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Don't worry, I have it on good authority that most of them will be visiting me in the hereafter, as opposed to where they think
      they're going.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  16. RCC

    Interesting how some of you think this statement is crazy – "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 think this is crazy – what do you call doing the same thing every election cycle with zero results and zero future. As long as dems and repubes hold fast to your parties, you are doomed.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  17. tthecat

    "I have prayed at the opening of multiple Chick-fil-A locations." That says all you need to know.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  18. Tiffany

    They have the right to use money spent on chicken sandwiches to support a discriminatory agenda...and the public has every right to boycott them because of that. Chick-Fil-A made their bed.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  19. ruemorgue

    BS – Religious liberties are *not* at risk. The author doesn't like that simple fact that religious bigots are being held accountable for their bigotry and hatred. All the hate and bigotry is based on a collection of inconsistent fables and lies.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • RCC

      Disargreeing with someone's beliefs or lifestyle is not bigotry or hatred. Quit trying to spread dissent

      July 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • unbelievable

      @ ruemorgue. What an ignorant statement. I am continually surprised by people who claim to be open minded, and who hate bigotry, yet who practice the same form of close minded bigotry they accuse others of. Whether you think gay rights is the new civil rights movement or not, it is a moral issue for millions of Americans and to say in one sweeping comment that moral and religious beliefs are hateful and bigoted shows how small minded you and people like you are.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • cicadasystem

      @RCC It's bigotry for sure. I am so sick of the religious (especially christians) always whining how their religious freedom is under attack.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      For all you religious clowns, you can practice and spout all the hatred you want. I'm not a PC-er who believes in banning *hate speech*. Instead I thoroughly agree and encourage you religious types to spout all you want! In the long run, that is how the rest of the people will finally be free of you! The inanity of your beliefs will come through. It just takes time. LMAO!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  20. barbarianofgor

    Really, I'm against this. I don't care if he has a belief others might not like. Outside the strictest letter of the law there should be no real social sanction.

    How many of you work in any job that faces "The public" and notice if you reveal you have a view, left/right, religious there are "Crusaders" out there you might work with, help, etc. but then they turn around at talk to your manager like you were jack the ripper... Had that once over treating a black woman like a human being, my boss literaly thought I'd proposed filthy relations to an 80 year old lady in her church. Only thing that saved me from being fired and arrested was a camera showing her shake with rage and mouth the N word while I helped a black woman ahead of her.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:53 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.