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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. Billy Bones

    Why is it that hard core Christians are always so dumb? I can accept differences in opinion on social matters, but Christians' justifications for their perspective are always little more than believing in fairy tales. If there was a god, wouldn't he have made the Christians smart and the atheists dumb? Why is it almost allways the other way around?

    August 1, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  2. ben

    Who cares? they have good food, So a CEO has political or religious views that are contrary to the main stream. Thats what being an American is all about.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Dude

      I like chicken sandwiches. Just because their CEO has different politics than I do doesn't mean I won't buy a sandwich from his stores. I agree with you.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  3. A Little Common Sense

    Why aren't the christians against every non-christian getting married outside of a church by a non-priest?

    Doesn't that go against their definition of marriage?

    August 1, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • chamillion

      The answer to that is- nope. The Biblical definition of Marriage is a contract between a man, a woman, and God.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • A Little Common Sense

      But you get married outside of church by a govt. representative, god has nothing to do with that. Often he isn't even mentioned in the ceremony.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • chamillion

      Then it's a contract between a man and a woman and a Governmental organization. It doesn't quite have the same authority– but it is recognized in that Geographical area.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • A Little Common Sense

      So should the church be against those marriages if the don't fit their definition of marriage by not involving a contract with god?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • chamillion

      I think Christ said it best, "Give that to God which is Gods, Give that to Ceaser which is Ceasers." If a marriage includes God, then it is ordained of God. If a marriage is ordained of Government– then in death will you part.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • A Little Common Sense

      OK, that's your opinion & I'll respect it. But I don't see people of the church rallying against those marriages as being wrong and fighting against them, despite being against their definition of marriage. B/c the religious definition shouldn't have anything to do with the govt. regulation of any union (straight or gay).

      Why are they OK with one form of marriage that is against the religious definition of marriage being supported and made legal by the govt., but completely against another?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  4. Brian

    It's interesting how people like Mohler use rhetorical tricks to turn a situation upside down. We have hundreds of Protestant denominations, creeds and sects and of course each has the "correct" interpretation of the Bible. Religion in this country is a business. Just go to church and you will see what I mean. Last week I saw Rev Copland's wife on television and the third word out of her mouth was the word "money."

    August 1, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  5. chamillion

    I find it interesting how so many people think that God is a hate-monger. That pesky little idea that an individuals actions might be wrong. Well– I support the CEO of chick-fil-a in his decision to talk about his religion. Heaven forbid he has the right to make his voice heard in the public square too. I don't support the ultra-conservatives forcing "Godly-morality" by law. But I don't think the other extreme can gulp down that they are doing the same thing in reverse.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Dude

      Actually, the God of Abraham is a dick.
      Exodus 20:5
      "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"

      August 1, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • chamillion

      *gasp* You mean God wants to be respected? That's a new concept.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  6. polycarp pio

    Church it is time to get a backbone and get used to being persecuted for your stand for alll things righteous, like the Lord Jesus Christ said if they persecuted me the will also persecute you. Now is the time of the seperation of the sheep from the goats, the sheep will stand up to the world and the goats will crumble and side with the way of the world, choose now which side you will be on, its only going to get worse MUCH WORSE, but remember your real enemy is not flesh and blood people, they are just unwitting pawns in the hands of satan. PP

    August 1, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  7. Aneliis

    Mohler is a hypocrite. He wants freedom of expression for himself and his holier-than-thou bible thumpers, but not for anyone who disagrees with their version of 'god'. They want to establish a theocracy, these Christian jihadists. The ancient Greek and Roman gods were much more humane than the Judeo-Christian-Moslem sky fascist. If Zeus got mad at someone, he might at worst fling a thunderbolt in your direction, not wipe out whole nations like the angry God of the bible.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Dude

      He didn't just wipe out a nation or two. During the flood that he made Noah build that boat for, he killed off the entire world except for a handful of chosen people.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Florist

      He never denied freedom of religion to anyone, much less to those who are in favor os gay marriage. I think you need to read this again. The point is that these people are saying point blank that they are inclusive, so they will exclude Chick-Fil-A. This also poses very serious legal issues if politicians can now say that they will deny permits to people when they disagree with their opinions. If this continues you WILL see yourself on the other end of this. Some day someone will decide that your business can't exist because you aren't Christian or that because you don't worship Mohammed you aren't allowed to keep your job. When you squash religious freedom and give politicians this kind o power, expect repercussions.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  8. rnco

    Let the backwards brainwashed idiots open their stores. Their sandwiches are pretty good.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  9. California

    Let the civil war begin.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  10. Jhamilton918

    The People do not only get to vote in the ballot box, they also get to vote with their dollars and their feet. I think that far too many times religious people confuse religious tyranny with simply not getting their way all the time. The owner of this "restaurant" is not simply in the business of selling chicken sandwiches, he chose to make a comment and take a public stance and donate money to a current civil rights issue. In doing that he gave people the option to either support him with their business or not. If the KKK started selling lemonade I would not buy from them, they support the suppression of civil liberties of other Americans and Chickfila does as well. We are either a nation that supports the expansion of civil liberties or we are no better than any other nation that allows their religious extremists to dictate who can be treated fairly.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  11. bbrentso

    Another clear example of the hypocrisy in this country. Those who DEMAND tolerance are the least tolerant. You don't support one man's view, don't visit the business. As the writer indicated, Chick-fil-A is not under any investigation for employment discrimination. Quite the contrary. However because of one man's personal belief, the left wants to silence and persecute a business that actually puts people to work...now there's another novel idea. Fact is nobody is forcing a gun to anyone's head to spend your money at this chain. If a community doesn't support the business, it will fail through natural attrition. The man is simply expressing his religious convictions...what is everyone elses excuse? The bigotry the claim to be subject to. I have really reached a point in my thought that this country should split North-South. Use the original Mason-Dixon line and throw the West Coast to the North for good measure and let the chips fall where they fall.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  12. for all atheist, gays or both

    For RELIGIOUS to deny other people's right is HATRED and BIGOTRY. While for ATHEISTS to kill other's people right is COOL and OKAY.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  13. MIRIAM

    QUIT hijacking my wonderful religion of peace, tolerance and love. So very many of you who say you are Christians are very surely NOT.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Willard

      QUIT hijacking my wonderful religion of holiness, righteousness and justice. So very many of you who say you are Christians are nothing more than post-modern, pantheistic deists.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  14. Peter Rabbit

    Any corporation to include religious organizations that take money from people and then use that wealth to promote their personal agenda and usurp the citizen's vote is wrong and must be exposed.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Roger Pan

      What's the connection? Please tell us what you are smoking.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Willard

      So, basically, shut down everything you don't like.
      Brilliant.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  15. That

    I like ice cream. Duh...

    August 1, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  16. California

    Support tyranny, support the mayors in Chicago, San Francisco & Boston.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  17. to all atheists, gays and both

    Get a GRIP!

    August 1, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  18. L Rivera

    Ken, you can't assume every democrat is in favor of killing babies.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  19. James Eaton

    The real threat to religious liberty in this country comes from evangelicals who have pretended that Islam is a threat. Where is the outrage by the writer against Michelle Bachmann's crusade against Muslims in public life? Where is his outrage about the discrimination by government in Kentucky against a mosque? Those are government actions designed to discriminate against a religion.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Peter Rabbit

      Exactly.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • A Little Common Sense

      They're only concerned about peoples' rights to the extent of their rights to espouse and further their discriminatory & oppressive agenda. It's all under the disguise of caring about rights. If they actually cared about peoples' rights, they wouldn't be pushing for the agenda they are

      August 1, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • bbrentso

      Have you read the Quran?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  20. Corey

    DISCLOSURES:

    You are obviously a biased hack.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:10 am |
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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.