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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 • My Take • Opinion • Religious liberty

soundoff (3,216 Responses)
  1. Ed in Texas

    I heard that Chik-fil-A is now cleaner and more drug free than ever before now that the liberals have boycotted them!!! I'm "eatin-more-chik-n" tomorrow!!!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  2. James PDX

    I enjoy doing my wife in the behind. It feels great! If any of your fake Christians try to take that right away from me I'll do you in the behind too.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Gross. Not too mention she probably walks around for a couple of hours thinking she has a broomstick up her jazz!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • California

      Try it and lose it. HA HA HA

      July 31, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • I agree

      I think I know your wife.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • James PDX

      I think you're exaggerating, Hugh. More like a large Foster's beer can.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • James PDX

      i agree, Biblically or just Greek?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  3. California

    judeamorris

    Nope. Liberals believe in tolerance. That means being tolerant of others' views so long as they don't limit the freedoms of others. Conservatives wish to impose their limited views on everyone else. Huge difference.
    -----–
    So by your statement you support ALL types of marriages, correct?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • James PDX

      Ooh, look, he's trying to cleverly trap you. I approve in all kinds of marriages between consenting adults. That includes polygamy, which God not only approves of, but even made a law commanding it.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      In Netherlands, the age of consent is 12 years old. Great for pedophiles. It's the next step on the gay agenda.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • James PDX

      Are you sure it's not the next stop for catholic priests? Or heteroseual males who make up the majority of pedophiles?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  4. Hugh Hefner

    Both religions and gays have to go.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • James PDX

      Sounds like a gay must have been a pain in your a*s too many times.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  5. therealbartonfunk

    Yoj can believe what ever you want and also say what ever you want. Have your freedom of religious choice and freedom of speech. BUT if you believe in discrimination and you speak about discrimination that does not give you the right to be free of the consequences of your beliefs and statatments. We have never had any kind of freedom from reaction or freedom from consequences. People and businesses that discriminate should be shunned and kicked out of public society. Not by the force of government but by the force of morality.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  6. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Very good.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • I agree

      I watched it, wished I hadn't but I did.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  7. NoBama

    Wow isn't this DISCRIMINATING towards Chick-fil-A for not allowing them to stay in the NYU campus and everywhere else?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  8. Kyle

    I am so so so sick and tired of the christian hypocrisy. How many hundreds or thousands of towns have christian government officials kept businesses like adult book stores, or strip clubs, or bars from opening up? How many towns restrict business rights to operate at whatever hours they want by restricting beer sales on sundays, or after 2am? These are almost unanimously religious groups doing EXACTLY what the mayors of boston and chicago have said they would do.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Excellent point Kyle!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • James PDX

      Reason? Logic? facts? That's very un-Christian of you, Kyle.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • ArthurP

      But they are doing it to uphold the moral fabric of the nation.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  9. California

    If democrats had it their way they would EXTERMINATE everyone with a difference of opinion.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Religion is not an opinion – its sheer stupidity. Not a valid idea.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • California

      Hugh Hefner – And that is in fact your opinion. Nothing more.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • James PDX

      No, they'd only exterminate those who want to make their different opinion into laws that deny others their equal civil rights. Stop trying to discriminate against and oppress others and the problem will be solved.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Nope! That, in fact, is a fact!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • judeamorris

      Nope. Liberals believe in tolerance. That means being tolerant of others' views so long as they don't limit the freedoms of others. Conservatives wish to impose their limited views on everyone else. Huge difference.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • California

      Hugh Hefner

      Nope! That, in fact, is a fact!
      -----–
      Wrong again. You people don't know anything and your posts are proving that time and time again.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • srd

      To be fair to Hugh, religion is the greatest trick humanity ever played on itself. Organized religions are disgusting conformity machines that specialize in misinformation and oppression. There is no doubt, if you think the Bible is fact, you are a moron.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  10. tony

    Fry the other cheek.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  11. Hugh Hefner

    The deep question of the day: If two adult scatophiles want to get married, is there anything wrong with that?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • California

      Is there anything wrong with polygamists that want to?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      They are both digusting. So are the gays!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • James PDX

      No. I'm fine with polygamy, as is God. Even if you argue that God only allowed polygamy but didn't approve of it, God's law dictates that even if you are married, if your brother dies without a male heir, you must marry his wife until you impregnate her with one. Thus polygamy is a law of God. God killed a man because he wouldn't impregnate his sister in law.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Maybe she was ugly! Then again, who cares about the silly creation called god?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  12. Jamen Smiley

    Thank you CNN for allowing Albert Mohler to write this article. I really appreciate your ability to find educated men on the conservative side of this issue.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • James PDX

      And I appreciate your sarcasm.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  13. Dyan

    You want my money.

    Like you, I also have religious freedom and personal beliefs.

    If you want my money, then I suggest you refrain from offending MY religious freedom and personal beliefs.

    See how simple that was?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • jeremy*

      You have that right personally, his point is thatgovernments cannot discriminate against companies based on their religious beliefs. Its called the 1st ammendment. See how easy that was.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  14. Rob7635

    I'll make religious folks a deal; When they stop trying to make their beliefs the law of the land, we'll stop using the law to fight them.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Rob, they just need to disappear.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • ElJuanSancho

      selective first amendment rights granted by you, that's full blown stupid dude.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  15. California

    Liberals no longer know what the meaning of words are. They think laws are only for others to obey. Democrats think they're to big to jail.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • James PDX

      I'm a liberal. I follow the laws. I also don't fight to make laws that discriminate against others. It's the Christian thing to do, or at least it used to be when there were more real Christians.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  16. JohnBorg

    I understand that this is very controversial. I don't think the cities should ban it, but they should investigate the company's policies and donations and order structural changes within the company if necessary. However, why are we letting Mohler talk. Every time he's on CNN, I feel like I'm listening to nothing but substanceless rhetoric.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  17. Adam

    Religious liberty does not give the right to promote hate and discrimination. Period.

    Keep your religious liberty in your home where it belongs.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • ElJuanSancho

      what hate? what discrimination? he is simply voicing his opinion, just like you have.

      has everybody become so ignorant, that they think passing a law will make everybody like them and their ways?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  18. Wren

    While I do not agree with the CEO's religious views, so long as his company's workplace practices do not violate any labor laws, they should have an equal opportunity for permits for their restaurant. If individuals feel the need to do so they can chose not to patronize chick-fil-a. The government and it's officials must not exhibit partisanship in these matters or all beliefs and groups are at risk.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Bodewell

      I agree, Chic-fil-a has done nothing wrong and should not be harassed by the government. I don't agree with Mr Cathey and will not be dining in his establishment. If he wants my money he can stop supporting organizations trying to restrict my rights.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  19. Damocles

    Look, this is the bottom line, anything else and you are a child yelling to gain attention: You, as a person living in a free(?) country, certainly have the right to say that you don't agree with certain things. That is totally fine and I will fight for everyone's right to disagree. What you do not have the right to do is to tell two consenting adults that they can not be married. This constant twisting of things like being gay leads to an interest in children or animals is ridiculous.

    Now, you can choose to not go to the wedding, you can choose to say being gay is icky and you can choose to not be in a gay relationship if you aren't into it. Saying you don't like something is fine... I don't like spinach, but I don't hate it, nor am I trying to dump millions of dollars to force everyone else to not like spinach. I simply don't eat it.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  20. jh1289

    Hey, I have a great idea. How about Chick-Fil-A sell their cheap, processed friend chicken and keep their mouth shut on political issues?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • DJL

      Stop making sense! ;)

      July 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Ed in Texas

      The Chic-Fil-A CEO can have, and voice his OWN opinion without your permission!!!!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:11 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.