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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. Hugh Hefner

    Religion needs to go. Why should anyone show any respect to a ridiculous concept like that?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Well that's the question of the hour now isn't it?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • only for atheists, gays and both

      The jewish land owner who didn't allow an atheist's billboard to be erected their own lot has been called a stupid and bigot.

      The mayors that refuse to give business permit to Chick-fil-A just because the owner expressed his belief of the divinity of marriage, become their heroes.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  2. jason

    Stupidity of the hightest order. Here's something that all you churchies might not realize, but religious freedom IS NOT ABSOLUTE. The fact that you are a christian does not give you a license to say whatever you want. Yet that is what you seem to believe. As soon as something like this happens, you wine that your liberties are being infringed upon. Please. All you do is negatively impact the lives of everyone who does not agree with you. You are the most destructive segment of society. Do you really believe 2000 year-old stories are the literal truth? Give me a break.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • LOGIC

      Although no big fan of many doings of the evangelical extreme right, you are saying that we (whoever that may be) should not tolerate the majority of Americans, as statistics show that the U.S. is overwhelmingly religious, regardless of what that religion may be.

      August 3, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  3. Dan in Tampa

    What absolute rubbish! The use of the Dim-Witted view that "this nation has reached the brink of tyrannical intolerance" is absurd.
    If it were truly a "Family" business it would be different but they are not. They are a corporation who hires from the general public, and as such have no "right" to enforce their views on others. Theirs is the "tyranny".

    July 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Don

      It's their business; they can hire whomever they want. YOUR aesthetics mean nothing.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Of course they have the right. They also have the right to fire anyone who doesn't agree with their views or policies. They have a business to run.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  4. Lyn

    AMEN, Reverend. Amen.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Craig

      Gay men! Reverend... Gay Men!!! Yay!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  5. George

    This is by far the best thing that could ever happen to Chick-Fil-A, tons and tons of FREE ADVERTISING everywhere, thanks to the intolerance of the liberal groups, as you can see now the intolerance is the other way around, so this liberal groups are now as intolerant as the conservative groups used to be... !! everyone is the same, good for Chick-Fil-A.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Michael

      I take it you're just ignoring what's happened with their consumer rating score since all of this went down.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  6. Michael

    Hold on. This guy is the board of Focus on the Family, perhaps the most hate filled anit-gay group, know for trying their hardest to demonize the LGBT community by spreading lies? Unreal.

    Stop hiding behind religion when justifying your hate. No one is buying it, especially God.l

    July 31, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Intelligence

    Equal rights is not a religious issue. By not supporting gay marriage you are openly opposing equal rights. If you think it is equal to not allow gay people to marry, then you obviously don't understand what this symbol means: =

    July 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Agreed, but Cathy has the right to voice his opinion as a private citizen–just as he would have the right to voice his opinion on being "pro-KKK" if he wished. I think the response has been appropriate to the offered opinion.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  8. TheyNotHim

    Mr Cathy is just an ignorant redneck. The people that support his business knowing that he is a bigot and uses the profits of his company to deny his fellow citizens their human rights are ignorant as well. It is not okay for him to express this kind of speech in this country, with our history of slavery and oppression. PERIOD.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  9. Cathy Quinn

    It absolutely has to do with freedom of speech. This man can say whatever he likes as his opinion-as long as he runs his business according to the rules of government, which he does. He does not discriminate when hiring or giving promotions. But apparently the mayors of Chicago and Boston can discriminate when they threaten to deny business permits bases on personal opnionions. Why is it permissable for liberals to say anything they choose without censor, but not a conservative, religious man who is devout in his beliefs and happens to own a private business that obeys the law?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Craig

      Cathy, it's perfectly permissible for Mr Cathy to say whatever he wants – just as it's perfectly permissible for everyone else to say what a dunderhead he appears to be for having such ridiculous medieval beliefs. If you put yourself out there, you have to be prepared to deal with the response – which has been rather enormous.... thank God!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  10. Jim

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHb4gs1hwck&w=640&h=390]

    July 31, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      Horns Up!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Craig

      OMG! That's freaking hilarious!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  11. bam

    christian taliban are threatening US.... cuz they feel it is their JOB to FORCE their morals on others... MORALS they got from corrupt not from Mr Jesus

    July 31, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  12. biblicalaaronc

    Hypocrite Mohler can dish it out, but he can't take it. He and his ilk of religious fanatics have tried to use religion as a weapon, starting/endorsing campaigns to boycott and financially ruin businesses that say "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", for example. Now that consumers are doing similar things to Chick-fil-a, they scream "religious discrimination". All these religious people would happily discriminate against other religions, be it Muslims who they forbid from building mosques on private property, or atheists, who they would run out of town on a rail in any city in the Bible Belt. These people are constantly attacking the religious freedoms of others and therefore have forfeit any right to complain when similiar tactics come back to bite them. It's Karma, and yeah, that's another religious concept that they hate, because it's not theirs.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • maria

      This isn't about consumers choosing to boycott a business because they disagree with the principles of the business owner. This is about government officials denying consumers the right to make their own choices. If so many people in their cities feel that strongly about it that they boycott the restaurant then the restaurant will not survive. THEN, the consumers will have spoken. I personally don't want government officials telling me which choice I should make. That blocks my freedoms.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  13. confused

    As I what I've known, the consti.tution and Bill of Rights are very firm and specific in giving each and everyone of us FREEDOM of SPEECH and EXPRESSIONS.

    Wha the HELL these officials are saying?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • disMAYed

      I thought gays and atheists are pro-consti.tunal right advocates, SIGH!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Butthole Thumper

      Nope! They're pro-self and caprice advocates.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  14. Gainyee

    Religious Liberty? Was the religious liberty of the Mississippi church which banned a black couple's wedding under threat?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • lostursoul

      The church was a white church, thus, MOST if not ALL of church goers their are white.

      Are you trying to insinuate that MOST if not ALL contsti.tuents in Chicago & Boston are gay?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Butthole Thumper

      Nope! Just their mayors and some few officials.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  15. sara

    Intolerance is not guaranteed under religious freedom. If my religion teaches me that people of a different hair color/race/height/whatever arbitrary characteristic you wish are evil and that they should not be allowed to participate in society, i am free to believe that but that doesn't give me the right to deny those people rights or impose those beliefs on others. I can think and say whatever a want, once those thoughts become actions that impose on others, that is when they become regulated.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • maria

      There is a difference between being intolerant and holding on to your own convictions. We live in a society that says, I have a right to believe whatever I want and if you disagree with me, you are a bigot. That is intolerance in my opinion. Disagreement with a person's viewpoint isn't bigotry or hatred. Treating a person as "less than" because they don't share your opinion IS bigotry. It seems to me that the bigotry in this country is coming from the very people who claim they are being discriminated against.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Maria –
      "Disagreeing" with a person's viewpoint is one thing. Actively promoting discrimination and trying to block the rights of a group of Americans is another. That is bigotry, plain and simple. You're welcome to your own "convictions", but attempting to legally mandate those religious-based views for everyone is wrong.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • maria

      People have a right to put their money behind whatever causes they believe in. I agree that consumers have a right to put their money behind businesses they believe in. If they don't agree with Chik-fil-A's owner's beliefs and business investments then they have a right to boycott his business. However, government officials shouldn't be the ones making that choice – it should be consumers.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Gene

      Sara, if you read the article you surely understand that Chick-fil-A has not been accused of any of what you say. The owner simply shared his view. You must find opposing viewpoints terrifying.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  16. Jim

    I can't justify barring Chick-Fil-A from cities for exercising the right to free speech, but I will also not be eating at a Chick-Fil-A while its founders preach intolerance. I don't need the government's help to boycott a restaurant.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • twinelms

      Who is intolerant? Not you, right?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • manbearpig

      twinelms: "No, you're the one who's intolerant! You are intolerant of my intolerance!"
      Idiot.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  17. KyleGlobal

    People used to use the Bible to justify slavery and racism. You are still perfectly free to believe and shout from the roof tops that you believe your religion justifies slavery and racism. Of course, people will call you a bigot and society will shun you for being a bigot, but you are free to believe it. Your religion liberty is not under threat. No one is telling you you can't be a bigot. However, as society progresses it will become increasingly unpopular to support bigotry against gays and to oppose equality for gay people. However, under the 1st Amendment, you have and will continue to have every right to be a bigot whether you use religion to justify it or not.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  18. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Great video clip.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME&w=640&h=390]

    July 31, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  19. Glenn S.

    Mr. Mohler,
    If Mr. Cathay wants to preach, he should start a church and do so.
    If he wants to run a business, he should run the business as a business, not as a faux church or a social pulpit.
    I agree that it goes too far to tell a business they are not welcome merely because of the opinions of the business owner.
    As long as they abide by the laws that apply to employees and customers where the business is located, that is the bottom line.

    This is basically a rerun of Carl's Jr. restaurant and Carl Karcher who supported John Schmitz, a John Birch Society member who represented Orange California in the California Senate. Mr. Karcher also donated $1 million to anti-gay Proposition 6 in California. People who favored discrimination flocked to his burger joint. People who opposed his financial support of bigotry boycotted his restaurant. One group praised, the other group condemned Mr. Karcher.
    So to an older generation this is "here we go again".

    When people spend their money to create laws that are extensions of a particular religion's principles, this is a violation of separation of church and state.
    Thus, Civil Rights, Liberty, Freedom, Justice are at risk when any particular religious group attempts to impose it's beliefs on the civilian population via the rule of law.
    There ARE two kinds of marriage. Religious, and Civil. Some churches or branches of churches perform same gender marriage. Some countries, even individual cities, such as Mexico City permit same gender civil marriages.
    It is right and appropriate to resist any religious group that wants to control the government and control how people live, or can not live.
    In other words, to each religion it's own, but keep it in church and stay out of government.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • John

      Exactly.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  20. mmmmm bacon

    Freedom of speech and freedom of religion do NOT mean freedom from consequences of your actions. So say what you want, give money to any organization or business that you want, just don't play the martyr for your choices when they don't turn out your way.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • powerabuse

      As to consequences has also it's own limit and DEFINITELY it doesn't include putting religious test in giving a business permit.

      Everyone has the right to boycott Chick-Fil-A, beyond that, has to deal with mah name!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:43 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.