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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. California

    CNN was down double digits across the board in July. Compared to July 2011, the network is -20% in Total Viewers and -23% in A25-54 in Total Day. In primetime, CNN is down -23% in Total Viewers and -26% in the demographic.

    Just above NBC's tabloid status.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Someone

      You're here, ain't ya?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  2. t3chn0ph0b3

    If Chic-fil-A teams up with the adu1t fi1m industry, together they can defeat the laws that are keeping them both out of Boston and Chicago!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  3. PRISM 1234

    There is NOTHING WRONG with when Don Cathy said “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 con/sti/tutes a marriage. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant att/itude to think we would have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about,”

    There is EVERYTHING RIGHT with it! And if he and his company, as well as others who support him, suffer persecution on count of it, blessed are they in the sight of God!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • McCave

      I don't see CFA suffering. Business is up.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  4. California

    When elected officials (Rahm ect...) start punishing people because they use their 1st amendment rights then it's gone WAY too far.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  5. Jacquie

    They are right, liberty is being threatened. Mine. I have a right to not have my liberty threatened by religions manipulating the mechanisms of government to impose a ideology on American Citizens that they were unable to convince people to believe without coersion. Government imposed morality is does not a moral belief make, but a tyranny imposed.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  6. Blake

    "Boo hoo hoo, people are reacting poorly to our bigotry, this must mean everyone hates Christianity! We're the real victims here!"

    I am so sick of this nonsense. You have the right to believe all the stupid hateful nonsense you want, but those beliefs should not extend to EVERYONE ELSE. America is not a theocracy. Your freedom to worship a god of hate is not going to go away when the government allows gay couples to marry, just like when interracial marriage was fully legalized, or divorce. Cry and moan all you want. Your victim act will get you nowhere.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • McCave

      You actually got that one wrong. They will go away.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Justin

      What does this have to do with the right to believe a tenet in your own religion and being banned from setting up an enterprise in a municipality?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  7. slugqueen

    Frankly, I'm tired of the "Help! Help! We're being oppressed!" nonsense coming from the Religious right. There is no one preventing you from attending religious services. No one has entered your home and removed Bibles, books, pictures, other religious materials. No one is preventing you from praying- even in public! No one prevents you
    from teaching your children your religious views. Religious programming is still on the tv and radio. YOU ARE NOT BEING OPPRESSED. No one is FORCING anything on you.

    You want to know what being oppressed is like? It is fleeing the country, with your son and a hay wagon, and your wife and daughters in the false bottom. It is seeing your father shot in front of you at the border crossing- because his name comes from the Bible. It is laying in the wagon, hearing the shot, and no way of knowing what happened. It is going back, to get more family members, and not getting out again. It is going to prison camp for preaching. It is seeing other members of the family arrive in the prison camp, because they picked up where you left off.

    It is being in a supposedly 'free' country, and watching your son go to prison for his religious beliefs. It is getting news that he- your oldest son- is dead. It is having the body returned wearing the uniform he'd refused. It is going out the back door as the locals come in the front door, and leaving the country to save your life.

    Why do I know this? My grandmother was in that wagon, hearing her father shot. Her brother went back for the rest of the family and died in Soviet prison camp. When my great-grandfather arrived in the US, he thought it was a land of freedom and opportunity. But not for Mennonites. Uncle Johann died in Leavenworth for refusing to serve in WWI. The family fled to Canada, and most of them are still there.

    I know what oppression is. I have an idea of what it is to have an agenda forced on you. And there is NOTHING like it happening in American culture today, NOTHING.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Justin

      I'm deeply sorry about what your family has gone through, but your story does not relate well with the article or discussion.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Joe Schmoe

      You got it wrong – the gays are always crying they are being oppressed.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  8. Wanderlust

    No. What you are witnessing is people finally waking up and fighting back. The rise of religious extremism in this country is infecting at every turn. While I don't think it's right that Chick-fil-A is kept from setting up shop in any particular U.S. town, because of their religious beliefs, I do think that we have the right to boycott them for the same. They have the right to say and believe anything they damn well want and I have the right to spend my hard earned money elsewhere. They claim to treat all customers one and the same. I'm curious to know if this policy extends to their hiring practices. How many openly gay folks work at Chick-fil-A I wonder. Or do they practice their own form of Don't Ask Don't Tell?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Dunlar

    Where did my post go?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  10. IAMDUDER

    Wait, you mean people still actually believe in that whole "religion" thing? Oh, how quaint.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  11. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit ... thestarofkaduri.com

    July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  12. Kona

    Ummmmmm, wasn't the SBC organized specifically to provide spiritual cover for slavery in the mid-nineteenth century? As such, I don't think they can speak with a lot of moral authority regarding liberty. Do you?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • SciGuy

      You likely know next to nothing about slavery.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And of course, you're an authority on the issue, aren't you, SciKlopper?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • SciGuy

      One thing is a certainty, I know more about slavery than you do about Confederate flags, laughable one.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  13. California

    Democrats practicing tyranny and hatred.

    No surprise here people, move along.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • albie

      Its not black and white - I for example am slap dab in the middle and its people like you who push me towards the democrats because they are the lesser of two evils - Ill tell you what though, I will vote for anyone who makes a point of separating religion and politics!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Alvie, if you vote for either Romney or Obama, you are part of the problem. They are slightly different wings of the same Big Govt Party.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah, because of course, SciClops knows ALL about EVERYTHING!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Oh, it's tomtom the diapered one!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  14. Benjamin

    Patrons choosing to take their money elsewhere is NOT a threat to religious liberty - in fact, it's the very manifestation of liberty, that we're allowed to disagree with you.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Hamlet

      Reading is optional I guess.... The liberty that is being violated is for government officials to keep a permit away from a company that they disagree with based on a statement. Those government officials should be hanged.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  15. Klaark

    It speaks volumes that there's no mention here of efforts to block mosques all over the United States simply because they're Muslim worship sites. I suppose it's only religion when it's Christianity, and that, my child diddling, hate mongering, enemies is why you're running out of friends fast.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  16. California

    I'd feel sorry for liberals if they weren't so stupid.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • albie

      That made me laugh – we both know the truth about that one

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • ljcarter2

      Wait a minute, my posts disappear, but this drivel gets posted?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  17. Lynsey Pug

    Recently a church in Mississippi refused to marry a black couple. I suppose they thought that was part of their religious liberties as well.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Klaark

      They want to be free to hate and be evil, they just don't want it to negatively impact them. Different standards for different people is the Christian way.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  18. Canaan

    News flash: Did you know that the fist concept of tolerance and religious expression and freedom actually came from RELIGIOUS Puritans who colonized America. Why? Because they read the Bible ans tudies it well and tried to live by it. This is where it all came from. The concept of "equality" came from the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. To attack it, as Boston, Chicago and all the other hypocrits are doing is to shake the very foundation of what makes our nation so special and distinct.
    i fear that if we attack Christianity and Judaist beliefs we are acting little by little more like these tyranical nations that reject Christian doctrine of loving others and the concept of toleration such as lets see.... Nazism, Mao Zedong Communism, Stalin, The Spanish Inquisition, and Radical extremists.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Canaan

      “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.
      Matthew 23:7-9

      July 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • albie

      separation of church and state my friend - pretty simple concept that this country was founded on. We would be much better off without "interpretations" of the bible. You say tomato, I say tomahto...

      July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      It's a good thing that you aren't actually in charge of announcing news flashes. You misunderstand quite a lot.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • albie

      "tolerant christian" is oxymoronic

      July 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Yes, Canaan. That's why the Puritans burned people accused of being witches. It was all that tolerance.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Canaan

      @albie...Did you know that sepration of Church and state came from the founder of Rhode Island? You know what he was??? a Puritan Minister..check your history genius

      July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Atheist

      The concept of "Equality" is not unique to Christianity and can be seen in egalitarian neolithic societies such as the Banpo Villiage in Asia that existed THOUSANDS of years before Jesus and Christianity.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Canaan

      @Tallulah ....Increase Mather. Learn about him. He was a Puritan who said to other Puritans that killing one innocent person was a greater sin than killing 500 "witches" under the persecutions. That is why the pesecutions stopped...not because some atheist came along and said stop. My point is, that religiosity is destructive yes,...but having knowledge of God through the Bible is imperative for society. One needs to becareful and learn teh scriptures as well as their history

      July 31, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Canaan

      @Atheist One- Men went to hunty, women gathered berries. Women were given value because they were the bread winners yes...BUT atheist, you smart guy you, do you think that the Founding Fathers and America's legacy is founded on some neolithic stones left by Banpo Villiage in Asia? My point is that America was founded on the principles of New Englander Puritans. Home of the original Bostonians

      July 31, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  19. Atheist

    Aww....the poor little cult of Christ. boohoo

    July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  20. albie

    I say down with the church, down with religion and down with hatred - I am not gay and I don't really care about the specifics of this controversy – what I care about is scouring religion from every crevice of public influence in this country (or any other for that matter) Religion is an antiquated and destructive, wasteful and downright ridiculous construct of humanity that no longer has a place. It is time to free up the resources and minds enslaved and move humanity forward. I can see more examples of bad things from religion than good. For every soup kitchen I will raise you an inquisition.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Canaan

      Thats what Stalin and Mao Zedong said...Yet they murdered more people than all religious wars combined in history...ALL history. You dont believe me genius? Check your history

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • elephantix

      Do you really think there have been more inquisitions than soup kitchens? I think your hyperbole is a stretch.
      A better question might be: which is more antiquated, religion or man's assumption that he is all-sufficient?

      Also, you should start meeting religious people in real life and not just on the internet. It would be enlightening.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:55 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.