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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. Keith

    Not one word of how the Cathy family donated significantly to some of the most abusive anti-gay groups in America? Odd.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • chamillion

      But say nothing about the huge donations from other big-wigs who donate to –how did you say it– "abusive anit-marriage groups". It's political polarization at it's finest.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • LinCA

      @chamillion

      You said, "But say nothing about the huge donations from other big-wigs who donate to –how did you say it– "abusive anit-marriage groups". It's political polarization at it's finest."
      Which groups are you talking about? The only anti-marriage groups I know are the ones that are lobbying to deny same sex marriage. All others appear to be very pro-marriage.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  2. Colin

    Ever noticed that every person's god always hates the same thing they do and loves the same things they do. Hmmm, did the gods create us, or did we create the gods?

    August 1, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  3. Bill Terrell

    I agree with gggg. When the Christian right sends Ted Cruz to the Senate under the Tea Party name then there is no longer separation of church and state. Every Sunday the Christian right bad mouths Obama and the Democrats. We should tax all churches. This is not a Christian county but a home of the brave and free. We will lose our freedom due to the loss of education and free thinking that the Christian right proposes. I believe in vouchers, all children should go to state supported schools. No church property or donation should be a charity exemption. If the Muslims schools outside the US only use the Koran for their education system does that mean that we should sink to that level and only use the Bible! No NO!

    August 1, 2012 at 1:13 am |
  4. Mary

    States and cities should not be in the business of keeping bigot businesses out of town, BUT consumers can vote with their pocketbooks. I have never and will never give Chick-Fil-A a penny of my money due to the views that they have publicly stated related to gay marriage. End of story.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  5. tony

    I think religious freedom is great. While I and my family study maths and science subjects and learn how both prosper and to make what we want in this world, you others can study the bible and pray endlessly for what you'd really like, but don't have and can't get.

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

      Well, if Math, Science, and Money make you happy– all the more power to you.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • J-Pap

      Math, science and money allows you to type a comment here rather than stand in a dusty town square yelling the end is nigh!

      August 1, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  6. Keith

    I didnt know christians were exempt from criticism,

    Mr Cathys comment were pure GOP politics. He wants to expand and gay marriages pose an enormous problem.

    How can a company whose branding is based on Southern Baptist ideology open stores in states where they may be forced by law to not only recognize these marriages but to pay benefits?

    August 1, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • California

      First off no government official should ever be bias against someone for exercizing their 1st amendment right no matter how much liberals think so.

      Second off it's his company and if you don't like it don't eat there.

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

      Why are pro-abortion politics trying to force Catholic Hospitals to kill unwanted babies? It's a moral issue caught in political tendrals. Government has gotten to big and is wandering in areas that just make more problems.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • California

      chamillion – It fits their liberal feel good agenda.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • Keith

      Neither of your comments make any sense.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • chamillion

      California– maybe. Or maybe it's a different interpretation of what freedom really is. It's almost like that version is "do whatever you want with no consequences or natural reprocussions."

      August 1, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Cq

      It's like what Bush said about people criticizing the Dixie Chicks for what they said about him. Both the Chicks and their critics were exercising their first amendment rights, and part of the protest against the Chicks was the destruction of their records, and dropping of their music from radio stations. That's basically what people are doing to this guy's restaurants in protest to what he said, right? What's the difference?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:44 am |
  7. Cq

    This isn't just a debate between Christians and unbelievers. Considering that there are already plenty of Christian congregations that do not consider gay relationships sinful, and have no problem with marrying gays, this guy's opinion is also an attack upon their Christian religious beliefs. It's a battle that includes versions of the same faith on both sides, so he can't claim that this is an attack on Christianity, can he?

    August 1, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • LinCA

      @Cq

      You said, "It's a battle that includes versions of the same faith on both sides, so he can't claim that this is an attack on Christianity, can he?"
      Those others must not be "real" christians.

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

      LinCA
      But who has the right to judge which groups are "real" Christians, or not? If it's the majority, then all the protestant and Orthodox denominations out there ought to be asking the Catholic Church for the legal right to use the trademark, right?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  8. aN

    liberals are just mad that Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sun

    August 1, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Len

      I won't be eating there any more anyway, so why do I care when they're open?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • Colin

      Not mad, just perplexed that a modern corporatiuon would consider it anything short of utterly ridiculous that the Sabbath is saccred because the Christian god "rested" on it after creating the World in the previous 6. An omipotent god "resting." What a facially obvious flaw in the whole myth, before we even get to the whold evolution, big bang thing.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  9. gggg

    I agree, we are in an age of religious intolerance. But I think it goes the other way. If you are not a Christian in the manner recognized by this or that US church, you, in your disagreement with them, and people like you are subject to threats, protests and violence. "Christians" protesting a mosque or temple because of some preconceived notion of what the people are like. "Christians" denying a black couple a wedding in their own church. "Christians" threatening people whose symbol is something other than a cross. We say we're a nation of tolerance. Yet the Christians of this nation are the most intolerant group of hypocrites on the planet. The US population is about 350 million souls. That means there are about 6 billion people on the planet who are different the we are. Get used to it and chill out.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • chamillion

      If you think Christians in America are bad– you need to live in Iran for a couple years. If you live long enough to get out.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Cq

      chamillion
      There are plenty of Christians who support gay marriage, so this guy's opinion actually attacks their religious beliefs too, right?

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

      @chamillion

      You said, "If you think Christians in America are bad– you need to live in Iran for a couple years. If you live long enough to get out."
      Yeah, try living in 14th century Europe as a commoner. You'll be begging to live in Iran.

      Finding someone or someplace that is even worse doesn't make your position any better. I would like to have fairy tales removed from my life entirely.

      You are free to live by your idiotic beliefs. You are not free to expect anyone else to do the same.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  10. California

    It's apparent from the liberal posts here that they approve of government interjection into religion along with supporting elected officials and their support for a tyranical society.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Cq

      Was it tyrannical of our government to oppose slavery even though the majority of Southern churches taught that it was fully supported in the Bible?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • California

      Cq – To each his own, live and let live, take the good with the bad.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Cq

      California
      Is it legal to have a "to each his own" att.itude towards slavery and civil rights? Public opinion is shifting quickly in this matter, and soon bigotry against orientation will be treated exactly like racial, or gender bigotry, and that means that laws will be passed.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  11. California

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

    August 1, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  12. hhv94

    I do not agree with the views of the owners of this restaurant. But I do feel it's not fair for any state or local government to discriminate on the owners own backing of anti lesbian groups. Unless the restaurant actually bars lesbians from eating there, only then would I understand not giving the restaurant any means to locate in the cities. A group to REALLY ban is the Boys Scouts of America. I am already in the process of making my own thoughts known to my local public school and ask them to not let the boy scouts have any activities or gatherings in our towns schools. Since boy scouts a private group they can set it up somewhere else.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  13. Provingyouwrong

    Good. Go Chick-Fil-A... their business is getting mad pub for this.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  14. Clark1355

    I can't wait until society as a whole looks down on religion. Then we can focus on REAL problems. This guy is a fool.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  15. Very good points

    Maybe divisions like this will serve to bring people of all faiths together. That would be good, to focus on our similarities instead of our differences.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • chamillion

      I sure hope you are right.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  16. California

    The same people against Chick-fil-A also don't know what the meaning of wrods such as "LEGAL' and phrases such as "FAIR SHARE" mean so does this really surprise anyone? Not me.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • mickey1313

      w people want to press legal issues against chick-fill-a, however, it is an illigal stance. Example, change the word g a y to interracial, and see how many people would want him hanged drawen and quartered for claiming to be against interracial marrage. Ye not that long ago that was common. Times are changing, and people need to realize that equality for all means, FOR ALL. and what the he ll are you talking about when you say fair share? Are you trying to say that the rich do currently pay there fair share? if you think that, you are eather rich, making more then 250k a year, or you are very very foolish, bordering on st up id.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • California

      mickey1313 – From the look of your post you must love ignorance, tyranny and idiocy.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  17. Andie

    How in the world does people refusing to visit a business, with a CEO who made the boneheaded mistake of publicly advocating to limit the rights of a group of Americans, equate to a threat to religious liberty? Believe whatever you want, say whatever you want, but this is America. News flash: God doesn't make the laws here. That means if your "beliefs" include limiting the rights of others different from you, you are subject to censure! Deal with it. AND STOP HIJACKING MY CHRISTIAN RELIGION YOU HATEFUL, HATEFUL PHONY CHRISTIANS. It is not your place to judge, but to practice forgiveness and acceptance. Get it straight!!!!!

    August 1, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • mickey1313

      christianity and hateful bigot, and the same thing. If you can read your bible, and honstly have no problem with it, you are a sociopath. the word that the sheeple of jebus take as truth, has been catagoricaly disproven as truth, it has been proven plagerized from older cultures and works of mythic fiction, no more true then the ilad. except the greeks wrote much much better.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Mark

      People have the right to judge whoever they want. You're throwing terms around without the least bit of thought given to what they mean. I can open a vegetable market and tell everyone that I think people who eat meat are doing something wrong. That's my judgement and I have to right to vote for someone who supports the killing of animals. What I don't have the right to do is tell meat eaters they aren't allowed in my market.
      What you and all your type are trying to do is FORCE someone to believe what YOU believe or at least force them to hide their beliefs for fear of YOU'RE judgement! If people don't like what they believe then DON'T EAT THERE! And tell your friends not to eat there! That's the way a free society works!
      Smarten up!

      August 1, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • So then...

      Either you believe your faith, or you don't. You can't mold or change it to fit your whims..like, I believe this part but not this other part.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Cq

      Isn't this the same as Christian calls to boycott Disney for being too gay friendly? In fact, Christians have called for all kinds of boycotts, book burnings, and other actions against businesses and people disapprove of. Are you arguing that, just because they're religious, they get to play by a separate set of rules?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  18. Marco Perches

    This guy obviously doesn't understand. People are allowed to practice whatever religion they want, and say what ever they want under the first amendment, yet they forget so does everyone else. Just because you say something under the guise of religion doesn't preclude the rest of the masses from reacting to it however they choose...where are these people getting the false notion that somehow religious freedom and freedom of speech are a one way street?

    August 1, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  19. mickey1313

    If he, the owner of chick, came out and said he didnt aprove of interracial marrage, he would be labled a bigot. It is the same exact thing. freedom and equality for all, means equal rights for all US citizens. Your thiestic view is mmot in this argument, it is not about faith of belief, it is about right and wrong.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • mickey1313

      mmot? oops, I ment moot

      August 1, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  20. Chad

    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.

    Boy is that ever true, as so many have posted here, many atheists have absolutely no problem engaging in discriminatory actions as long as they see that illegal activity achieving their end goals. The notion that a Christian should be able to hold a viewpoint different than their own, and lobby the government to that end, is an utterly contemptible idea to them.

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

      That is because basing 21st Century social policy (that also binds non-Christians) on later Bronze Age Palestinian mythology is inherently offensive and preposterous to us.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • mickey1313

      First, most atheists do not think you should not be able to hold a differing viewpoint. But it is unconsti tutional for any laws to be made that suport theism. It is in black and white clear as crystal. And if someone wants to spout there openions in public, they had better be ready to take the heat of criticism from the public. He he wanted no back lash, he should have kept his bigoted mouth shut. Now everyone in the country knows what he thinks. If you agree with him, fine eat his food. If you dont, boycot his food, it makes no difference in the long run, I wouldnt eat there because I do fried chicken 100 times better then chick, but even if I couldnt. I would not eat somewhere that activally embraces religon. All theism is brain washing, and out right evil.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Chad

      @Colin "That is because basing 21st Century social policy (that also binds non-Christians) on later Bronze Age Palestinian mythology is inherently offensive and preposterous to us."

      =>that is just simply amazing.
      You want to eliminate religious freedom, the foundation upon which this country was built.
      You want to deny others the right to practice their religion in favor of your viewpoint, that God does not exist.

      Colin, you are a fascist. Mao and Joseph Stalin thought the exact same thing.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Chad

      @mickey1313 "But it is unconsti tutional for any laws to be made that suport theism"
      =>when, exactly, does that ever happen?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Realist

      Chad, You big silly...
      "You want to eliminate religious freedom, the foundation upon which this country was built.
      You want to deny others the right to practice their religion in favor of your viewpoint, that God does not exist."

      Colin never said a word about outlawing religious freedom. He's trying to reason with you (all). Banning religion is not just, nor effective... it just makes folks cranky.

      The best news that we might think of is that someday we might see signs outside of churches saying, "Closed for lack of interest" - "Coming soon in this space, a homeless shelter (or day care center, or clinic, or any of a number of real aids to society)"

      August 1, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Colin

      Chad, you said: You want to eliminate religious freedom, the foundation upon which this country was built.
      You want to deny others the right to practice their religion in favor of your viewpoint, that God does not exist.

      I said no such thing. Look, Christians are welcome to believe some Bronze Age Palestinian sky-god created the entire Universe and supervises them 24/7, but what I object to is using this preposterous belief to set social policy that binds non-Christians. As a small example, I cannot buy a nice bottle of red wine on a Sunday where I live because Christians believe the World was created in six days and that the Sabath is sacred. Fine, if they want to believe this disproven, childish garbage, but don't curtail my freedoms based on it.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Cq

      Chad
      There are Christians who support gay marriage, so nobody can say that this is an attack on "Christianity". Both sides have Christians with differing theologies on this matter, just as both sides have non-Christian supporters too, right? So why is everyone just talking about the conservative Christian's religious freedom in this issue?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • Chad

      @Colin "what I object to is using this preposterous belief to set social policy that binds non-Christians. As a small example, I cannot buy a nice bottle of red wine on a Sunday where I live because Christians believe the World was created in six days and that the Sabath is sacred. Fine, if they want to believe this disproven, childish garbage, but don't curtail my freedoms based on it."

      =>think that you are fundamentally not understanding what "religious freedom" is.
      It's more than just not outlawing the practice of Christianity ;-)

      At it's core, it is predicated on allowing citizens that practice a religion the freedom to lobby their government to enact legislation in line with their belief system.
      In other words, you arent allowed to enact a litmus test on laws the same way you arent allowed to enact a litmus test on a persons beliefs.
      To do so would be discriminatory, AND a violation of my civil rights as a citizen of the USA.

      end of story.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:46 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.