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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. tony

    religious freedom and speech

    July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • moonpie

      If Rahm and Thomas (both mayors) don't kiss on Friday in front of a Chik-Fil-A, they are both just a couple of hyprocrits...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  2. jellylee2020

    O please, if a religion requires human sacrifice and you tell them that its illegal for them to kill people, is their religious freedom being attacked? A religion should not be allowed to discriminate against a group of people. Hitler and the Nazi's used the same argument to exterminate millions of people, so did US overstep itself by going up against the Nazi's because it can be deemed as attacking their religious freedom? I can claim the same thing, my religion says gay people are the same as straight, now your hateful speech is impeding on my religious freedom, you are attacking my religious right!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      yup i totally agree

      say out of my gay marriage my religion allows it so why are you impeding my religion

      July 31, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  3. tensai13

    OMG did this poor Baptist man undergo a forced lobotomy or something? Or is he just a religious wackjob?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • JG

      What makes him a wackjob? Why do people throw that word around so much? I believe in ghosts....despite being a single Father of 3, making a good living, and writing books and poetry....yet, the first statement makes me a WHACKJOB!!!!!! I am completely nuts! Call CPS....save my kids! GTFOH!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  4. Matt

    You mean "Religious Bigotry Under Threat"? Hurray!!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  5. Keith

    Religious liberty is NOT under threat. You can practice your religion all you want, with the most freedom enjoyed of any citizens in the entire world! To pretend otherwise is lie, plain and simple.

    What is under threat, as it should be, is your ability to actively discriminate against others. Laws that prevent rights and privileges of LGBT citizens is nothing but discrimination and bigotry. Passing laws that grant equal rights to the LGBT community does NOT adversely affect Christians. It does not affect their rights. It does not discriminate against them at all and their rights are NOT under threat by such legislation. In other words, granting rights to gays doesn't hurt Christians in ANY way. To pretend otherwise is a LIE. And it's a willful lie. And I'm guessing that's a sin, but, hypocrisy isn't all that surprising when one considers the whole premise of this argument.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  6. Sam Yaza

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vmuFpY428g&w=640&h=390]

    just found this,.. and i love it

    July 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  7. Patrick

    Typical.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Patrick

      Religious bigots came up with the same BS...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  8. Surfeit

    This whole issue is totally overblown. Yes, some politicians are getting their willies twisted over what amounts to a free speech issue, but so are all the people whining about religious persecution–like they do every December, whenever anyone has the audacity to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Cry me a river.

    There's no legal precedent for blocking Chick-Fil-A chains on religious grounds. Just like the bloated, genetically altered monstrosity we now call the chicken, measures to that effect will never fly. These left-wing politicians are just trying to rile up their base during an election year–EXACTLY what I suspect Mr. Mohler is trying to do with this article.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  9. Rob

    To hell with your absurd commentary. There is no place in this world for mythology and fantasy. Take your religion and shove it you stupid coward.

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

      So says the person who lives in a Country whose Founders said it was "Under God".... Why are you HERE for if this World has no place for "fantasies"? Is that not irony? You can move OR kill yourself now...or stop judging people for their points of view....maybe that might work.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • moonpie

      Are you saying pack that fudge?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Sane Person

      Um, the founders didnt say "under god" there smart guy. It was added 1954. You people really need to read a history book.

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

      Um...why was it added Sane Person? Who added it? Merlin the Magician? Puff the Magic Dragon???? Again, if it is "fantasy", then why in the Hell was fantasy added in 1954???????

      July 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Keith

      It was added, JG, as a response to the Red Scare. We wanted to separate ourselves from the "godless" Russian commies. Had nothing to do with gay-hating chicken hockers.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Sane Person

      Right, ignore the whole "founding fathers" bit, and skip to a totally different argument in the hopes no one notices. Ok, Why? Do you suggest it was because god showed up and demanded it? No. Because people like you that believe in fairy tales and ghosts had the political power to do so. Just like they once had the power to enslave blacks. They had the power to prevent women from voting. They had the power to anhilate the native americans and take thier land. Does that make them right? Of course not. Time to grow up. Discrimination, subjugation and enslavement will come to an end, and those that supported it will lose power. Thats why you are all so scared now. You are losing. You fear being on the other side. You fear being the minority. You fear someone else will discriminate against you. You fear what has happened to millions of others who are sick and tired of it.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  10. Rhino76

    "I have prayed at the opening of multiple Chick-fil-A locations."

    That's the funniest thing I've read all day.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Sane Person

      god cares deeply about chicken chain store openings. It says so in the good book. Should also toss a drumstick on the ground in tribute, lest ye anger him and cause swarms of locusts.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  11. gunnymo

    Nobody's "religious liberty" is being infringed. If CFA wants to be a company of bigots and discrimination they are welcome to. They are also welcome to suffer the consequences of their actions. Spouting religious bigotry does not require people to agree with nor support it. If they are free to say they hate gays then gays (and their supporters) are free to say they hate CFA and call on other like thinkers to boycott it.

    Religious bigots love to spout about their First Amendment rights when people disagree with them or call them on their hate but refuse to allow those that disagree the same right.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  12. gdaym8

    This is a non-issue and a distraction. How about we focus on the REAL problems this country faces.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  13. Concerned Citizen

    So, I guess it's okay to be a bigot and discriminate against others as long as you use "religion" to justify it. Seems this was done during the Civil Rights era too.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Aristocles

      Is Chick-fil-A denying service to non-Christians? No. Is it firing gay employees? No. Is it putting up a "whites only need apply" sign? No. The owner of the company is expressing his own personal religious beliefs, and he doesn't deserve the hatred and desire for censorship he has been getting. He is a brave man and his company makes good food (for fast food), pays its taxes, and has not actually violated any civil rights laws.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Andres

      Either I am not understanding something... or you aren't...

      Who are they discrimnating from? Are they prohibiting gays to come into their restaurant?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • moonpie

      Who has he DISCRIMINATED against?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Daniel

      They donate millions of dollars to organizations that lobby against gay marriage. That's discrimination in my book.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • katie

      the charge of bigotry stems not from individual opinion, but overt corporate activism in which Chick fil A contributes millions to anti-gay hate groups (so defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center) that say gays advocate pedophilia and beastiality, for example.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  14. joels2000

    I like it when these religious nut jobs complain that burning women at the stake is their religious right.... and preventing witch hunts violates their religious liberty.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Heath

      not sure when the last time the "nut jobs" were screaming about the restrictions of burning witches......oh right....you meant back in the 1600s? you cant explain stupid, pal, so no need in trying to defend yourself.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  15. Rhino76

    Alright, for sake of argument let's say I have a religious belief that slavery is morally acceptable (for which I could also use the Bible for support) and I spout those beliefs and give money to groups promoting slavery. The beauty of this country is that I could believe that crap if I choose to, and other people are free to voice their disgust at those beliefs, protest my business, and even encourage civic leaders not to approve new business licenses for me. The First Amendment doesn't protect anyone from OTHER PEOPLE NOT LIKING WHAT YOU SAY.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  16. Ray

    You know what makes me laugh? Where were all you anti-gay folks, when the gay agenda initiated back in the mid 90's? Where was Chick-A-Fila then? This is all political. Obama will still win November. It's too little, too late.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  17. Ms

    "tyrannical intolerance"

    The irony of using the word "intolerance" while simultaneously being intolerant is apparently lost on you.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Sane Person

      Yea, its getting harder and harder to be a rich, white, bigot in this country anymore! Geesh!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Daniel

      yeah, when those gay people aren't allowed the same basic rights as everyone else they sure do get intolerant!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  18. Jalen

    Im sorry... but what does religious liberty have to do with peddling greasy chicken sandwiches?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  19. Aristocles

    Look, freedom of speech and religion doesn't mean that the speech or religion in question has to be popular. If you don't like it, don't eat at Chick-fil-A. No one is forcing the food down your throat, unlike those who seek to redefine marriage "whether you like it or not."

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

      I'm sorry. How does two men getting married infringe on any rights you have? Please, name one. We'll wait. Oh right, it doesn't. Nothing...nothing...in your life will change if gays get married. The sun will still rise, the moon will still set and you will still be a happy bigot.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  20. Morgan

    It's not his opinions, it's the MONEY. The more people go to Chick-Fil-A, the more money donated to anti-gay groups. Those groups do not say "We think traditional marriage is better and would like gays to respect our choice and we will respect their right to marry", they say "Gays are going to hell." I will not give my money to a hate group. There's no difference between that and the Westboro Baptist Church.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:25 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.