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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. Larry

    Everybody talks about "Rights". People yes, companies no. This dispute is really a Republican trick to take your mind off what really is important.... Mitt making a fool of himself in Europe!

    August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • DC1973

      And Israel.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • foolu

      And you want to turn it into a ploitical circus?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  2. Albert

    I TOTALLY AGREE WITH CHIC-FIL-A's STAND. MARRIAGE IS BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN! GENESIS 2:24

    August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Divorce between a man and a woman, spousal abuse between a man and a woman, adultery between a man and a woman, etc. etc. Yeah marriage is great.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Larry

      The only time this becomes an issue is when its time to vote. The Republicans only want to divide us 99% and continue to steal your money.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Sodom was about mass male gang r@pe, not about men who want to marry another man and have children with them. Get out of your tiny Christian box.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • thes33k3r

      You should have put it in all-caps so we would know that you are a very intelligent person with something important to say.....

      August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  3. Vincent

    Its funny how the right-wing extremists are claiming religious liberty is under threat, while trying to deny others their own liberty. The only way religion is involved is when the extremists try to force their beliefs on to everyone else. So i suppose everyone else is being persecuted by those nuts.

    People can pretend its somehow about the owners freedom of speech. Noones saying he cant say whatever he wants to. But in a free society he does have to face the consequences of those words. If people dont like it, they will vote with their wallets.
    Chick-fil-A supports and provides funding to groups that are anti-gay. Not just the owner himself, but his restaurant chain itself. THAT makes the restaurant 'fair game'.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  4. Chris

    in the long term it wont matter. with 40 years the country will identify itself as atheist, and join the global world in progressive, scientific understanding. and on that day i will smile and laugh at how stupid these arguments seem.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  5. DC1973

    Why do people keep asking, "Well if they kick Chick-fil-a out, are they going to kick out the churches, too?"

    Are they saying religion is about money, or that Chick-fil-a is a religion?

    August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • L Rivera

      Neither, it means this system is pointing their cannons against anything related to Christianity.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  6. Neeneko

    Oh BS.

    Rich powerful organizations complaining that they might actually be called to task for their actions... so persecuted!

    Chick-fil-a is using its profits to get laws passed (or blocked) that force its religious views on people outside its denomination. This isn't speech, it is using government settle cultural and doctrinal issues that they lack the sway to get people to voluntarily follow.

    And then they have the nerve to cry 'persecution! intolerance!' when a mear paper tiger of a similar threat is made against them? Talk about not being able to take what you dish out.... these people have no expletive clue what it is like to be on the receiving end of intolerance.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  7. Grant C

    "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."

    Uh-huh, because if there's any oppressed group in the US it's the religious demographic that makes up over 75% of the population and spends all it's time legislating it's morality on everyone else... moron.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  8. matthouston

    what about the liberties of gay and lesbian people? hypocrite.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  9. Jud

    Chick-fil-a tomorrow it is! Great article by the way. Nice work.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Brandon

      Thumbs up! Couldn't agree more...except I'm on a diet right now...lol

      August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • jp

      Eat a chicken. Support biblical marriage. This is almost kafkaesque. Gotta love religion.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  10. William

    Let's try the shoe on the other foot and see how it "feels" to those of you who support the mayors.

    Let's say that hypothetically the mayor of a small rural town does NOT like the lifestyle or beliefs of an openly gay person who wants to open a business in said small town. The business is completely legal, doesn't violate any zoning ordinances, etc. The only reason for the mayor's threats are based on his differing views of religion, lifestyle, etc. The majority of the town feels the same way as the mayor.

    In this case, are you Chick Fil A haters also believing that the small town mayor has every right to keep the gay owner out simply because of the differences in beliefs? Neither owner is doing anything wrong or illegal.

    In any case, the mayors can bluster, and if they act, Chick Fil A WILL sue, and it will be an open and shut case win for the company.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • manbearpig

      Ok, but let's apply the rule across the board. We can start with changing the law in any place that bans alcohol sales on Sunday.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • edweird69

      I don't believe the mayors are out to legally stop their proliferation. Just saying "they're not welcome" in their town, as they don't want the controversy, or the hatred.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  11. A Little Common Sense

    The religious folks complaining about discrimination?

    What's next Rush Limbaugh telling someone to stop yelling?

    August 1, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • L Rivera

      No, next will be Planned Parenthood saying they are for women. At least the ones lucky enough to be born.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • William

      Okay, apparently many of you are not understanding what's going on here.

      Chick Fil A is NOT complaining about people boycotting their stores. This is perfectly legal and happens with all different kinds of businesses (lots of conservatives boycott companies with liberal leanings).

      The issue here is that representatives of the government (i.e., mayors) are threatening to block business operations entirely simply because they don't like the views of the CEO. This is ILLEGAL. It is NOT the same thing as people boycotting existing operations.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Planned parenthood?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • ArthurP

      In our world a child (<15) dies in child birth every 7.5 minutes for want of an abortion. That is over 75K per year. (Save the Children Fund)

      August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Spare me. You MUST be a republican. All religious before the child is born. After their born, screw 'em. i don't see you offering any money to help these children once they are born. KIDS ARE NOT FREE. You want them here, HELP PAY FOR THEM.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • A Little Common Sense

      William, you are right in reference to the specific chick-fil-a issue. I agree they should not be deprived, by the govt., of the ability to do business for these beliefs/speech of the business, and they haven't as of this point. But I'm speaking to the broader statements of Mohler which embody the hypocrisy of most religious zealots

      August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • L Rivera

      There were 700K deaths worlwide for transportation-related accidents in the world in 2002. Ban cars.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Your point? People that die in car accidents don't cost me money. (unless it's my car) Children that the parents cannot take care of are then taken care of by the gov't. That's my tax money. birth control and abortions are cheaper than children.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  12. Tony

    Just more silly humans running around trying to be the mouthpiece of the universe.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  13. California

    EAT AT CHICK-FIL-A TOMORROW NIGHT.

    EVERYONE WELCOME.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      You paying.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • edweird69

      Hope you choke!

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

      edweird69 – Of course you do because people like you naturally hate.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • manbearpig

      California –
      I don't hate you. You just seem kind of stupid, and you like to repeat yourself for effect. I'm all for you choking because I think it would make the world a better place, not because I hate you.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • California

      manbearpig – You've proven to me you have zero common sense and an extremely low IQ.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • William

      I'm going!

      Pretty funny how this operates...just as all the liberal shrieking and wailing about guns drives gun sales, so too does this drive Chick-Fil A. They'll enjoy this burst of business (with hopefully some customers being longer-term), then sue the daylights out of towns where the mayors actually are stupid enough to try and follow up their rhetoric with action. And I (and my guess is a vast majority of Americans) will support them all the way.

      Not ALL liberals are intolerant...some actually are indeed tolerant and recognize that while they might not agree with what the CEO says, he has the right to say it and has a right to operate a business as long as he is legal about it.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • edweird69

      @California – the comment made was, that they plan to purchase from a place that considers me a 2nd class citizen, deny me my civil rights... and I"m the one that hates? REALLY ???

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • manbearpig

      California –
      How does anything I said prove anything about my IQ? I'm interested in whatever it is you're about to make up...

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • tallulah13

      No thank you, California. There are plenty of other places (ones that don't contribute to hate groups) where I would rather spend my money.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • California

      edweird69 – If you support elected government officials doing this you obviously don't know what this country is about and you're obviously only care about your own selfish agenda. Hey be my guest. Doesn't surprise me or the majority a bit.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  14. Ken Margo

    It really is amazing less and less straight people want to get married. Yet more and more gay people want to get married. If we continue to follow the church, ultimately, no one will get married.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  15. Edward

    Always love how the religious turn their own intolerance for others into others' intolerance for them. Expert manipulation!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Joe

      Guess the gay/liberal community shouldn't of started it. Dan did not condemn anyone. he just expressed his views on marriage.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yeah, Joe. Darn those gays for wanting equal rights. They should just shut up and let themselves be second class citizens. That way, people like you don't have to deal with the fact that there is more proof that hom.ose.xuality is determined in the womb than there is proof of any god. That way, you don't have to consider the fact that what you believe in is, more or less, a fairy tale.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  16. Steve

    Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from criticism of said religion, nor does it mean freedom to impose one's religious beliefs on others. Just as Chick-Fil-A has a right to their opinion, so does everyone else, and if they choose not to support Chick-Fil-A, you can't deny them that right on some flimsy, invented grounds of "religious persecution." If Chick-Fil-A is being persecuted for their religious beliefs, then anyone who isn't a Judeo-Christian in America is being persecuted for theirs.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Joe

      When the government does so they very much can.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • chamillion

      Faulty logic there Steve. Just because people are pro-gay or pro-marriage doesn't mean they are being "persecuted" when they disagree with each other. "I disagree with you" is not equal to "I hate you". In this case, pro-gay politicians are denying a company permits to build because of the founders religious beliefs. That IS religious persecution– not Gay persecution.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • manbearpig

      Faulty logic, chamillion. You said "pro-gay politicians are denying a company permits to build because of the founders religious beliefs" – that is untrue. They are talking about denying permits to a company that promotes discrimination. There is a huge difference. I'm not saying it's right, but your interpretation is a fallacy.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • chamillion

      manbear– Essentially they are saying that because Cathy defines marriage according to what the Bible says– he is being discriminatory. Because of Cathy's belief– they are "talking about" denying his business building permits. It is a religious threat. If anyone threatened a gay man like they did Cathy– it would be flip-flopped into "those meany Christians hate me". It's not logical at all.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  17. Deanna

    It ain't about his RELIGION; it's about him giving money to "cures" and "camps" for GLBT people. These are brainwashing and torture. He supports groups that want to harm Gay people just because they are Gay.

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

      Love the ignorance. Totally understand why chic's business picked up so much. "Guess you are on the wrong side of history."

      August 1, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • tallulah13

      We can tell that you love your ignorance, Joe.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Don M

      I'm familiar with the organizations he supports. Obviously you're not. Let me guess - you read about it on the internet so it has to be true, right?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  18. cljahn

    CHICK-FIL-A was not, last time I checked, a religion. To the best of my knowledge, no elected official has called for the ouster of "the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques." Well, to be honest, the mosques have been protested, but mostly by the same crowd that supports Chick-Fil-A. Kind of ironic, one religion is attempting to violate another's rights.

    But this is the kind of outrageous hypocrisy we've come to expect from righteous men like Mr. Mohler. It's more hysterical posturing from religious fanatics who seek to impose their religious views on the rest of us, and they don't like it when they discover that in this country, other people's religious views are ALSO protected. We are in no sense, Mr. Mohler, a Christian nation. Take that to heart.

    Free speech is also protected; we can criticize someone for their actions. I don't care that the owner of Chick-Fil-A doesn't approve of gay marriage. I do care that he funds groups that defame gay people and distort the facts in order to interfere with the beliefs of others.

    Mr. Mohler, you can have whatever religious view you like; no one will stop you. Preach whatever you like, and feel free to lie to yourself that Christ would approve of anything you're doing. That's your right. But I'll be damned if I will do business with a company that's basically funding hate, and I don't care what flavor of righteousness you use to justify that hate. I can choose to do business with anyone I like, and I don't have to do business with anyone I don't like. And that's one of my rights.

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

      Yep the point of the article just flew completely over your head. Either that or your ideology makes you blind and ignorant.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think you are the one who doesn't get it, Joe.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • manbearpig

      Joe –
      LOL! Funniest response of the night!

      August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • chamillion

      We are a Christian nation according to the statistics. Compared to other countries we ARE tolerant of other religions. Just take a look at the middle East– the shoot and torture anyone who believes differently than they do. If you think you have it bad in the U.S., you don't know any better. And it appears from this story– that Freedom of Speech is now only protected when you are a minority. Go figure.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • manbearpig

      chamillion –
      So your stance is that this is a christian country, and non-christians are lucky our christian overlords are so tolerant of us?!?! LOL, the founding fathers would be rolling over in their graves!!

      August 1, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  19. chicago7

    This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with freedom of speech. Any business owner can express any opinion he wants and no one has the right to shut him down over it. And if the business owner says terrible things offensive to many people, they can elect not to be customers. The business owner, like the rest of us, says what he wants and faces any consequences of the things he says. What he cannot do is violate employment laws and cite religious conviction as an excuse to break the law. But has long as he's following the law let him yap to his heart's content.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • edweird69

      It's a bit more complex than just respecting beliefs. It's not just about a difference of *opinion*, it's about gays being discriminated against, hated, bullied, and... not having a lot of the same rights in our society.
      How do you respect people that *believe* you don't deserve equality under the law like everyone else, because they think you are less than, or a sinner, etc... and that think your 'soul' is going to burn for ever in 'eternal dam-nation.' ...?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Joe

      Wait, What rights don't they have, And how was Cathy violating their rights?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Joe

      Marriage is not a right, It is a sacrament as defined by the bible.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • edweird69

      @Joe – there's over 1100 rights denied to me and my partner, granted to str8 people. Does that answer your question?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Joe

      OK shoot, what are they?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • edweird69

      @Joe ... WRONG... marriage is a write.. please google "Loving vs Virginia". It is indeed a civil right.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • edweird69

      oops, I can't spell tonight... I meant right, not write

      August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • manbearpig

      Joe –
      You know marriage is a legal state. I mean, you know it is – there's no question about it. You also know non-Christians can and do get married. I'm beginning to suspect that you may be retarded.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • chamillion

      edweird– I would love to see your list.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • edweird69

      Joe – of course I can't list them on this blog. If you're interested, plz go to this link: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/an-overview-of-federal-rights-and-protections-granted-to-married-couples

      August 1, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • edweird69

      @Chamilion – or however you're spelling it... plz see this link. http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/an-overview-of-federal-rights-and-protections-granted-to-married-couples

      August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Joe

      Only because the government decided to tax it. If you really want separation of state and religion then the government has no business in marriage at all.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Joe

      Here in illinois edweird civil unions have the exact same rights as married couples. Would you be satisfied with that? its not marriage but its your "rights" you say you can't live without

      August 1, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  20. Ray

    If you get offended because of what you are, you might want to stop the car.
    Get out , walk around and check the tires. Make sure every thing is ok and then try it again.
    But don`t for get to turn on the lights because you might just be driving in the dark.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:48 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.