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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. R

    Gay marriage aside, the point of the article is that the government has crossed the line by threatening a company based only on its owner's beliefs. There should be no testing of beliefs in order for a company to be able to obtain a permit. That is the basis of the 1st amendment. It should go both ways. Supporters of gay marriage should also not be denied the ability to open a business based on their beliefs. It's scary that elected officials would even go there.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • manbearpig

      I agree. But elected officials have been going there for a long time, refusing to allow pron theaters and other "unmentionables". No one was complaining then, but when they talk of blocking a christian restaurant everyone freaks out.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • California

      Tyranny seems to be in the democrats repertoire.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Darkslicer

      Agree with you 100%. This country was founded on religious freedom and freedom of speech. It is not the government's right to get involved in this.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Joe

      The people that freaked out was the people trying to silence Dan Cathy. I hope he stands strong and the people to continue to support him.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • R

      There is a bit of a difference between this situation and "unmentionable" businesses. For the unmentionables, the permit is denied on the basis that the business would harm local economy and residents of the city. Whether you agree with it or not, it is what it is. With Chick-fil-a the basis of the denial would be disagreement with the religious beliefs of the owner, not the practices of the business itself. Huge slippery slope there. Reminds me of Germany kicking out Jewish business owners. Terrible.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  2. Darkslicer

    While I personally support gay marriage, I see nothing wrong with Chick-Fil-A speaking their minds like everyone else is allowed to do. Whether you like it or not, freedom of speech exists in this country and for anyone to hurt their business because of something they said... there is a serious lack of tolerance for differing opinions. It wasn't like they were spreading hate, but simply fostering family values, which I also support (in a different way).

    July 31, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • William

      Good, thoughtful, objective comment Dark...a rare thing on this board and I completely agree with you. Fundamental to our society is the willingness and tolerance to let others speak their mind as long as they obey the laws we as a society have developed. Apparently this is not valued by some of these liberals and the PC shock troops.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Drew

      Before you say Cathy doesn't spread hate, you should check out some of the organizations he contributes to, specifically, exodus international, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • manbearpig

      I agree and disagree. Sure, the guy is free to speak his mind. But customers are also free to avoid eating there if they don't want their money going to a company that is supports denying rights for a group of Americans. Actions have consequences, and any business owner knows that good PR is a big deal. Chick-Fil-A will probably learn that the hard way.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Darkslicer

      Eh, when did eating out at a restaurant become political? You eat at a restaurant because their food tastes good/offers good value, not because of their stance on issues.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Joe

      Guess what manbear, The exact opposite is happening in every chic store I see. Apparently the american people are sick of the attacks on peoples beliefs by the liberal and gay community.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  3. Sickofphoneypeople

    I'll pray that God doesn't judge the Cathy family as harsh as they judge others. Jesus was about love not hate.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • California

      How ironic.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Joe

      I don't remember the Cathy family hating anyone. All he did was state his beliefs on marriage. That is not hate. If you want hate you should look on the people who have judged him.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  4. California

    Tomorrow night is eat at Chick-fil-A night.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Also known as "dine out in support of prejudice night"?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • California

      manbearpig – Only in your own pathetic liberal mind.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • jp

      Christians love to deny other peoples rights and freedoms while complaining and moaning about other people infringing on theirs.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • manbearpig

      California, you know nothing about my political views. This guy supports prejudice. Thus, if you go out of your way to patronize his restaurant because he spoke out on the side of prejudice, so do you. I understand you're a little slow, but just think about it a little – you'll catch on eventually.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • California

      manbearpig – As you support tyranny through your elected officals. Read the article brain dead.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  5. billy

    tl;dr

    July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  6. ELRod

    I will take a # 1 with no pickles. I understand all pickles are manufactured by a company that support gay marriage.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  7. Just a guy

    Religion = Polluting of the human mind.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  8. Dudemon

    F. y. U. h. C. a. K w. Y. e. O. h. U.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  9. GOD

    Chick-Fil-A may say and do what they wish regarding the gay people in our community. It is also my right to say and do what I wish to say and do, including not going to this prejudiced place...

    All my children deserve love, acceptance and respect...

    July 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  10. California

    I personally hope Chick-fil-A sues these cities in to bankrupcy if they do what they're stating.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Satan

      I hope you die in a fiery car crash.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • California

      Satan – Your typical liberal hatred is noted.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • William

      Agreed on the suing thing (sorry, Satan, ply your good elsewhere you vile temptor!!!) :)

      July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • manbearpig

      I just hope the lawsuit is successful so the pron theaters can start opening up for business. I could go for a good old "Fred Willard" – it's been too long.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  11. Ryan

    UM. NO – If anything, Christians have NOTHING but a history of threatening everyone else. Look what they did to their own deity? HELLO!?!? – You can believe in whatever made-up story makes you feel comfortable with your feelings of inadequacy about the after-life because your brain can't comprehend that you don't matter in the grand scheme of things. However, when you start voting against people who don't believe what you believe and have the audacity to think you're the one "under attack" when they tell you to F off.... then not only are you ridiculous, you're amazingly stupid. Congratulations to you. Your fascism has caught up with you and bit you in the A**.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • William

      See, here's the funny thing, Ryan. I can guarantee that about 80% of stuff you do would be objectionable to lots of people but as long as you don't violate any laws, you're pretty much free to act as you want, say what you think vote how you want to vote, etc. Apparently you don't agree. Who's the fas*ist? Seriously...you need to settle down just a wee bit. :)

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Joe

      That was the Jews, at least use some kind of intelligence.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  12. California

    These elected officials in these cities are begging for HUGE lawsuits.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Ryan

      So what if they are? They're standing up against dbags trying to vote against people who have nothing to do with their beliefs. Standing up to Tyranny is as American as it gets... Christians could make the choice to live and let live and s.t.f.u. But they choose not too because life outside of their bubble makes them 'uncomfortable.' Well boo-hoo and grow up. You're not the most important religion out there just because you have the most white people and trailer parks.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • William

      Ryan, you're hysterical. Stop with the hand wringing. They're doing NOTHING of the sort. Seriously, do you even read articles or just go directly to drinking the "outraged liberal" kool aid? :)

      July 31, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • California

      Ryan – Take your own advice and S.T.F.U and take your racist statements with you.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  13. Christopher

    Everyone at Chick fil a has the right to express their opinions. No one doubts that. And customers will react accordingly. That's how social progress is made - people don't stop being bigots overnight, but fear of ostracism will eventually outweigh whatever else they may feel.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Drew

      It's not so much what Cathy said, it's also who he donates money to. While Cathy himself may be a nice man who only tries to live by his Christian morals. He donates to Focus on The Family and Family Research Council, both of these groups use lies and bad science to attack the gay community, not just gay marriage. So please, don't make Cathy out to be some sort of victim. His actions speak louder than his words.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • HarryHoudini

      Making a public statement about your beliefs? Expect public reaction and backlash. But don't act like a victim because of it.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • William

      Drew and Harry, if he's being actively discriminated against because of his beliefs, that IS a problem. I'm quite sure he recognizes that some people won't eat there because of their religious focus, and I'm sure he's okay with that. But when you're threatened with not being able to operate when you've done nothing wrong legally and SIMPLY have different beliefs, that's a whole other story. Do you not see that? Tell me what they're doing that warrants the suggested action the mayors are discussing. And it needs to be MORE than just "we don't like how they think".

      July 31, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Christopher

      If he spends his business's money and puts his business's name out there right alongside his beliefs, then his business is where the hammer is going to fall. Any city can choose to exclude businesses that don't fit - whether that is due to environmental policy, social policy, or otherwise. Chick Fil A opened the door to this by making discrimination into company culture. Now they get to deal.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  14. Sam Yaza

    Matthew 7
    15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are gra.pes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

    Jesus's fruit bore genocide, bigotry and slavery.,.. hes bad fruit time to burn the bible

    unless you don't follow jesus's words

    July 31, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Satan

      I wish I could jam a wine bottle in your as.s and then shatter it, leaving blood gushing out your busted turd cutter. I hope you bleed out.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      Jesus! nice to hear from you to Mastema ,.. so when my parole coming up i would love the chance to walk amongst humans again,..especially Jewish women,..i love them big noses,...but i can see your still a stuck up ninny did you ever have any virtue,..
      because if you came all the way down here to the 9th circle just to insult me and make h0m0-3r0t!c comments i think ill go about my business

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49ahqMTIcJM&w=640&h=390]

      August 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  15. Whoop-de-doo

    I'm so tired of these supposed religious leaders clamoring repeated falsehoods, playing Chicken Little impersonators shouting “the sky is falling.” That America has “reached the brink of tyrannical intolerance” is absurd. In fact it’s a lie. Two mayors and maybe a handful of other politicians have spoken out against Chick-fil-A’s stance of marriage equality. Big whoop-de-doo. But you would think from this writer’s alarmist propaganda that our entire national political structure is about to A-bomb every church, synagogue and mosque. Who are they fooling? Our politics have never been so subjected to religious influence. Separation of church and state was a joke during the last presidency. But the soothsayers of fire and brimstone thrive on followers who live in fear. They make more money playing Chicken Little. Thankfully, most people see them as they are…chicken and little.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Satan

      they should have their butt holes taped open an then have chicken grease poured inside them.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  16. HarryHoudini

    Religious liberty under threat? Victim complex much? Show me the places of worship and religious schools being shut down by the government and I'll take your hyperbole more seriously.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • jp

      Christians tried to shut-down the building of the mosque near ground zero. How's that for religious freedom?!?!?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  17. Joe

    If I was chic-fil-a I would start discriminating against hiring gays or liberals because you know since these people have absolutely no morals what so ever they are going to try to destroy this company by any means necessary, Even if that means poisoning their customers.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • jp

      Citation on liberals and gays having no morals?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Joe

      Not all of them, just these militant types that attack innocent people for their beliefs.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Ryan

      Explain your idea of morals and why you think you're right and above everyone else? Because guess what... you couldn't be more wrong or self-absorbed.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • GOD

      Innocent people have no beliefs... that is why they are innocent...

      July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Joe

      In your opinion Ryan, Which really doesn't mean anything to anyone. Just like mine.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  18. California

    It's simply amazing how some people (liberals) can make up their own facts while ignoring the real facts.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • jp

      Pretty sure you just made this up.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • California

      jp – Your ignorance must keep you warm at night.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • jp

      I'm not the one here accusing a large segment of the population of making up facts without any verification of the statement. You must have taken a 100 level course in irony.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      um please don't use one of my names,...its not cool i don't like Christians

      FYI California=Athena=Minerva=Lucifer=The Morning Star=me♥

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_of_California

      so get the F4CK OUT OF MY STATE,.. thank you,..and liberals and progressives i love you,.i want more of you around,..freethinkers turn me on

      July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      Xo♥oX-0

      July 31, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • GOD

      Everyone's facts are real...

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • manbearpig

      jp – 1; Califonia – 0
      And he retreats when beaten...

      July 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • California

      manbearpig – A pathetic person supporting a pathetic person. HA!

      August 1, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  19. jp

    Whats the over-under that R. Albert Mohler Jr. wrote this piece and yet also opposed the mosque being built near Ground Zero in NYC? Taking all bets now. Gotta love religion.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  20. Ryan

    Religious liberty is not under threat – prejudice is just unpopular.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Joe

      Guess you didn't notice that chic's lines were bursting through the doors. So you are right, prejudice is unpopular even if its the gay community being prejudice. They really should stop while their ahead because obviously America is tired of this crap.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:36 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.