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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. dj-MD

    This may be the first time I have ever agreed with a Southern Baptist. I do NOT agree with their theology. But Mohler is absolutely correct. We on the left cannot really use some self-righteously concocted litmus test to determine what businesses can exist and which cannot. Mohler is right again to point out that Chick-fil-A has NOT been accused - let alone found guilty of - discrimination. So what Is Cathy guilty of? Having a different point of view? Holding a "traditional" view of marriage? Supporting political groups that he favors? If these are crimes, then most are guilty of similar "crimes."

    July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • jungleboo

      As soon as you trot a concept out of your head and put it on the street, you have sent a broadcasted invitation to the world at large to answer you. What is so surprising about that concept? If the fool just went to church, cared for his family, and ran his business in an efficient manner, why in the world would he give in to the desire to needle the half of the population that thinks his private thoughts (when broadcast) are offensive? Tell me please, what am I missing here?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  2. DocHollywood

    If you think that religious liberty is under attack because those who oppose the thinkings of the CEO of Chick-filet are voicing their opinions and (even in some far reaching cases) threatening to deny them permits, then point me to the article you wrote where you were as equally concerned when the officials in Tennessee and the Christian population tried to deny Muslims the right to have a Mosque built. Really......I would think the second case would be much more of a threat to religious liberty than the first. Or is it only a threat to religious liberty when it's YOUR religion you feel is threatened?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  3. jeep20

    They make a good product. Don't care if they like or don't care for gays, still doing business with them. It's America I will buy from who ever I please.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  4. StatesvilleChristian

    Even nature reveals that "gay" is not natural. Reflect on the animal kingdom. Overwhelmingly not "gay".

    July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Your microfiber shorts aren't natural either. What's your point again?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What a stupid argument. Plenty of animals DO have same s3x relationships, or multiple partners, or both s3x, or able to change s3x. Which animal should we turn to?!? Oh, Lord, help us!!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • niknak

      Overwhelmingly not religious either.
      So whats your point fundie?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • jungleboo

      The Xtians spout whatever they have been programmed to spout. If it is illogical, it's OK by them, like so many other aspects of their faith.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  5. radiowidow

    I see that the writer is Baptist. Wasn't it a Baptist church that recently prevented a black couple from getting married in their church? I'm tired of bigotry being shoved down our throats in the name of "religious liberty."

    But yes, even bigots in our country have the right to their own opinion as long as they continue to hire and serve the people they obviously hate. And I have the right not to eat there as well. I have to mention, though, I already made the decision not to eat there over their ridiculous use of lawyers. A shirt that says "Eat More Kale" is hurting your business? Really? Apparently no one can "eat more" anything without their approval.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  6. Carl

    If a group of people boycotted Disney becuase they have Gay Days, that would be bigotted of them, but it is the double standard. The media always fall on the liberal side of things. That will not change. The hypocrisy of the right is unbelievable, and never pointed out by media.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • jungleboo

      When the USA media overwhelmingly falls on the conservative side of things, that's when trouble will begin.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  7. James Montgomery

    Living in Virginia where religion was mandated in the schools when I was a child, I believe that businesses should not be banned because they are religiously affiliated; however, when this is used as a tool for discrimination–be it gays, Methodists, or Jews–the public has a right to know and the public will decide whether the business should be in a neighborhood or even be patronized. For years I have asked many of my Christian friends, "which is the right religion?" and the truly religious respond that "there is no one right religion." As a child I saw kids taken from class because they were not Baptist or given a failing grade because they would not deny their own religious heritage. America was based on religious freedom and all should be welcome, but Chik-fil-a has made its true intentions know and the public will respond.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  8. Carl

    I love how this gay marriage thing is so bigoted, however, there are laws forbidding polygamy and incestuous marriges and that's OK. Not that I want to participate in either, but, marriage has been limited to one man and one woman. But, it is okay to discriminate in that situation. Marriage has always been used as a way to support a family unit. And biologically, a man and a woman are required to propel the family unit forward. That just makes sense biologically, regardless of any religious aspects.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • roland

      Gay marriage is legal in 7 states. These states are still in existence, and are home to the most educated people in the US. Seriously, anti-gay marriage proponents cannot advance one singe cogent argument to support their cause and instead post garbage like you did.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Presenting the human race as simply a baby making machine is a little rude, don't you think? The Universe tries EVERYTHING, including neutron star collisions and billions of years of inexplicable realities, like life flourishing inside deep sea volcano chimneys. Consenting adult human beings have a right to express themselves together, end of story. Otherwise, you should really be toting a gun to keep things safe for your God.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Should we keep marriage "biblical?"

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFkeKKszXTw&w=640&h=390]

      July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  9. KDReeves

    What a backward opinion, sir. The fact that citizens, politicians, the media, organizations, and even private corporations can express their views and try to influence society using all the levers of power at their disposal, including the free market, is an indicator that religious liberty is THRIVING in this country. In a theocratic dictatorship, this kind of disagreement would have been squelched at Word One. Instead, it is persisting to the point of absurdity. It's a profound and meaningful statement about the quality of this country that the traditional majority no longer holds an instantly-appreciated righteousness. Instead, we're having seriously meaningful debate about the direction of our nation in the context of religion... possibly the truest of American traditions. Way off base, Mr. Mohler. Way off base.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • roland

      Kudos for this post.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Thank you KD. Beautifully presented.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  10. Wildcard

    Which "Biblical" principle of marriage does he propose? Marrying slaves? Arranged marriages? Forcing women to marry their rapists? There are dozens of "Biblical" definitions of marriage, none of which are accepted or acceptable in modern society. Please be specific, and justify your choice on grounds outside of, "It's (my) God's will."

    July 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  11. gary

    I have to LOL when I hear how ridiculously naive the gay community is to think the politicians support their cause for anything other than to pander votes.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • niknak

      Don't sell the other communities short. Politicians are equal opportunity panderers when it comes to getting elected.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  12. Mildred Gillers

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

    Actually, it is when those beliefs embrace contributing 5 million dollars to government-identified hate groups which spread hatred and work to deny people their rights.

    Stop trying to spread your BS.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  13. Clucky the Rooster

    So this "Cathy" clown hates gays.... at least he doesn't slaughter them like he slaughters my family. I hate that guy.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Corey

      LMAO Bravo!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  14. H

    I am alway confused when Christians claim they are so put down. They completely dominate the culture, to the point all political candidates have to profess Christian faith, all places of employment have to yield to whatever Christian holidays, and Christians are allowed to say and do almost anything they want in the name of their faith, even refusing to recognize or interact with people they don't lie. No other group gets the leeway or attention that evangelicals do. But they are the ones being put down on? It is head slapping.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • niknak

      It goes hand in hand with the whole "poor oppressed white male" mentality.
      christians will not be happy until everyone believes in exactly what they believe in.
      When you believe 2 plus 2 equals 5, then you have to make everyone else believe it too in order for you to be "right."

      July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  15. Sam Yaza

    Chick-fil-A #1 costumer

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qjl54v1irbs&w=640&h=390]

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Dan

      Religious beliefs aside this video is hilarious.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  16. manbearpig

    The really sad thing about all this is that these idiot "christians" really don't get it. They really don't understand their own hypocrisy. It's embarrassing.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • RCC

      Yeah – we all forgot you were an omnipotent atheist here to guide us through the perils of life. Arrogant just a tad are we with a side of narcissism

      July 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • manbearpig

      All right rocketman, so you understand your own hypocrisy yet continue along in the same vein? That reflects pretty poorly on you buddy.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  17. neken7

    I don't think it's right for the Government to out right ban someone due to their intolerance of other
    people, but I'm sick and tired of hearing these religious folks using the bible and phrases like "His comments were infused with his Christian convictions", and the often heard "traditional values", to defend their prejudice. What a bunch of ridiculous crap. You realize the same type of speech was used to try and keep slavery legal? Or to keep women from voting or working? Let's not forget that "traditional values" in the 1700s included owning another person. "Traditional values" in the early 1900's was keeping women away from the polls. Heck, if people didn't fight against "Traditional values" in the 1950s and 60s, we may have never abolished segregation.

    So while you may feel that, because of your religious beliefs, your "Traditional values" are being threatened... keep in mind that sometimes those "values" are no more than thinly veiled prejudice and hate and should be changed.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  18. James

    MOHLER, YOU STUPID IGNORANT TWIT. THE PROBLEM IS NOT WITH DAN CATHY'S RELIGIOUS IDEALS OR WHAT HE SAID. THE PROBLEM IS THE 3 MILLION PLUS HE HAS DONATED TO ANTI-LGBT GROUPS. Dan Cathy has exercised his right to free speech, but he is doing all he can to stop the LGBT from the same rights. He is INTOLERANT, he is PREJUDICED, and he DISCRIMINATES! Like everyone else, he is judged not by his thoughts or beliefs, but BY HIS ACTIONS!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Mischa Mills

      So what if he donated his own money to a cause that agrees with his religious viewpoints? Last I checked, that was legal. He wants marriage to stay the same as it always has been. Maybe you think that is some AWFUL DISCRIMINATION, but many just see it as keeping the status quo. If gays can't marry, do their lives radically change? Are they told they can't live with their partners and have a normal life? If their partnership papers say "civil union" rather than "marriage," are they being terribly abused? I mean, come on. Cathy giving money to Yes on 8 isn't the same as donating to the Klan, no matter what you, oh drama queen, may say. Just avoid Chik Filet and call it a day. The things you are posting are actually making you lose support for your cause rather than gain it.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Mischa – So basically gays should have something to marriage. Hmm, that sounds familiar...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Repost:
      Mischa – So gays should have something *separate, but equal to* marriage? Hmm, that sounds familiar...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  19. Mischa Mills

    Cathy is expressing his religious views to a religious newspaper. He is not discriminating against gay people. Gays can work at Chik Filet and eat at Chik Filet. What's wrong with saying that you personally believe in the traditional view, held by western civilization for 6000 years, that marriage is a male-female thing? Half the population agrees. He is not saying burn gays at the stake or even make them sit at the back of the bus. It's his RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINT. The liberals areintolerant of diversity of thought that they will refuse to let a company open a flipping chicken joint because one person expresses his religious viewpoint. That is the point of this article. In America, liberty to express your views are being threatened by lefty mayors in Boston,Chicago and DC. For all of you calling for Cathy's head on a platter, what happens when someone comes after YOU because your views don't gel with theirs? Live and let live. Eat your chicken somewhere else. Plenty of people will be heading to Chik Filet.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Corey

      6000 years... really? Last I checked the Greeks and Romans were quite gay friendly.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • manbearpig

      The guy has paid million of dollars to suppressing the rights of a specific group of Americans. As a supposed "christian" you really don't see anything wrong with that?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Religion should stay inside one's head. The moment you let it out, it causes serious traffic accidents. No one needs to broadcast their religious views. Unless, of course, they are in it for the money. Hmmmmm.....

      July 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Personally, I'm enjoying the irony of you saying something like "live and let live" while supporting the guy who's trying to deny rights to gay Americans based on a religious belief that they may or may not share. Now that is comedy!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Please refrain from misrepresenting history.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • RCC

      @Corey -ummm I wouldn't hold up the Greeks and Romans as an example. Read history and you will see what is left of the empires – Italy and Greece – all in shambles. Not saying becasue it was gay friendly but get educated.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • manbearpig

      RCC – Is that supposed to be relevant?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Henry Blond

      Well said Mischa.
      Live and let live, how hard can that be, right?
      If you don't like someones point of view, change the channel, walk out, turn around or simply go away, but don't try to force your opinion on everyone else.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • jungleboo

      RCC, what a stupid remark. Civilizations come and go, the green leaves of the forest turn golden and fall, very cell in your body is discarded and renewed many times throughout your life. The Greeks had a SPECTACULAR appreciation for the human body. They LOVED it, they CELEBRATED it in art and music and games. The Romans inherited this highbrow NATURAL culture (which wasn't known for mutilations so prevalent in other cultures. Just nude and happy. Once the Romans went into all-conquering mode, all roads led to Rome, which brought ALL manner of other cultures into Italy. The shock of over-load, as well as the general demise of systems over time, AS WELL AS the CREATION of the Holy Roman Empire as a CHURCH STATE,.....THAT'S what led to the dissolution of culture. The Dark Ages was Christian, and you better believe THAT!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  20. Sas

    Suppression of freedom bad, chicken sandwich and waffle fries good, picking on gays, atheists, religious bad, having right to ow opinion good

    July 31, 2012 at 8:13 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.