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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. John

    You can obviously tell this was written in favor of Chick-Fill-A. He writes about it being an attack on religion and religion views. So it is OK for religion to attack peoples rights? All that people, and religion are doing is delaying what eventually will happen. Think back to women's rights to vote, slavery, African-American's rights, just to name a few. Why fight a loosing battle. Just face it, no where in the bible does it say that God hates gays. After all, what about all those other things we are not supposed to do like wear cloths made of two different materials, etc. Oh wait, religious people can just pic and chose what has to be followed.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:20 am |
    • Chrisnot

      In order to be happy its necessary to passionately hate something.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:24 am |
  2. evelyn

    This is still America, and "we the people" can still voice our opinion .I have gay friends whom i have much respect for. They know my religious beliefs which do not condone gay marriage, but somehow the friendship survives, because we respect each other. They do not have to have me agree with them to have a friendship, nor do i.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  3. Bruce

    R. Albert Mohler Jr looks every bit a pedophile to me...

    August 1, 2012 at 2:59 am |
    • Damocles

      Just out of curiosity... whats a pedo look like?

      August 1, 2012 at 3:04 am |
    • clepto

      i bet you are a pedophile...

      August 1, 2012 at 3:07 am |
    • Damocles

      @clepto

      Is that directed at me?

      August 1, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • clepto

      noooooo...bruce

      August 1, 2012 at 3:17 am |
  4. Slovestra

    If you really want to show your support for Chick-Fil-A, Bring really big posters to all Chick-Fil-A locations to advocate the religious belief of right to life, These really big posters should have really big pictures of removed fetuses, this would let Chick-Fil-a know you are on the same side as their CEO.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • clepto

      um...you're an idiot? 2 in a row....

      August 1, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  5. Cary

    Chick -Fil-A is so f-ing good I would punch Jesus in the mouth, but then I bet they wouldn't let me have my sandwich . . .

    August 1, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • Damocles

      Hmmm, thats weird... the few times Ive eaten there, its been so bad it made me want to punch kittens.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • clepto

      yep....chic fil a is the shiznit.....all of their food is good

      August 1, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  6. Lisa

    I'm opening a business that will donate money to atheist organizations.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • Damocles

      What kind of business?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  7. California

    It's a shame for liberals that you can't be taught common sense.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:42 am |
    • Slovestra

      Go Roe vs Wade yourself

      August 1, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • tallulah13

      Whatever, Brony.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • Damocles

      @Slovestra

      Nice!

      August 1, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • California

      Slovestra – You're proof that a partial birth abortion can in fact actually survive somehow.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • clepto

      @ Cali

      Nice!

      August 1, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  8. nigel

    If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.' If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

    August 1, 2012 at 2:42 am |
    • Slovestra

      Sounds like an S&M novel

      August 1, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • Matt Slick

      And what does a theocratic system that is no longer in effect have to do with chick fila today? Seriously, do you actually think you made some great point by misquoting something you don't understand and "apply"? it to something that is irrelevant? Perhaps the liberal's mind has blown a gasket.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:35 am |
    • Nicole

      Oh this is priceless. I'm almost wondering if you just made this up as I've never heard this 'passage' in my life. So, what is the fate of the slave & his wife if the slave was not married & a wife was provided by the master, but the slave and the wife have no children as of the slave's 7th year in slave custody?

      August 1, 2012 at 4:53 am |
  9. DNA

    What a coincidence, Chick-Fil-A'a food is also offensive and disgusting.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • California

      What a coincidence so is Hussein Obama.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yep. I'm pretty sure "California" used to call himself "What's a Brony" or something like that. It seems like the same trolling technique.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • California

      tallulah13 – You liberals think that there's only one single conservative posting all the negative liberal posts. That's how ignorant you people really are. Keep showing your stupidity because it's the best you have.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • tallulah13

      Nope, Cali, it's not your politics. It's the way the comments seem designed to get people to pay attention to you - just like every other troll. If you aren't Brony, you could be his brother.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • California

      tallulah13 – It's the demcorat mayors that made it into a political issue. I'm sure you liberals will continue your ignorance. You peopel are so godo at it.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  10. heyheyhey

    I am gonna open a greesy joint and my motto will be I don't like Baptists I wonder how they would feel???? hmmmm Why are people fighting over greesy gross chicken anyhow?

    August 1, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • clepto

      im sure they would respond by saying, "who?"...

      August 1, 2012 at 3:14 am |
  11. Christopher

    I don't want my chicken sandwich to be politicized. I really don't. But if Chick-Fil-A is going out of their way to make it clear that their corporation is an affront to what I believe is socially just, then I'm not giving them my money. It's that simple. They mixed their corporate image with their campaign of discrimination, which is incredibly unprofessional, and now they get to enjoy the consequences.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • tallulah13

      I absolutely agree. Any business that depends upon a broad customer base should think twice about playing politics. What is popular in the South may close restaurants in the Northeast because of those customers who don't want their money going to support bigotry.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • California

      tallulah13 – It's obviously the democrat mayors that are when they shouldn't be.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • John Land

      That's your right. I'm boycotting Amazon.com because Bezos has announced he's giving millions to promote gay marriage. That's his right, and to boycott him is my right. What wouldn't be right is to say that someone who has certain views or beliefs and expresses them out loud, or puts them on a billboard, can't operate a business in your city or state.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • Christopher

      Your rights end where the next guy's begin. Believe in whatever religion you want, but beliefs that infringe on someone else's civil liberties are not acceptable, and cities adopting a policy against discriminatory employers is perfectly valid.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • California

      Christopher – So anyone that speaks out against the 2nd amendment can in fact be kept out of other cities according to your argument. Slippery slope there fluffy. Careful what you wish for.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • clepto

      campaign??? they were asked question...u people r so full of doggy doo

      August 1, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • elephantix

      @Christopher "and cities adopting a policy against discriminatory employers is perfectly valid."

      You're confusing the owner's personal views (and what he does with his money) with his role as an employer. Everyone reports Chick-fil-a to be a great place to work with equal opportunity for everyone. Plus they treat their customers well. You'd be hard-pressed to adopt a policy against them based on your attempted logic. Second, cities cannot shut down businesses over viewpoints. That is illegal because this is America. Third, look at Augusta National Golf Club. Men only. Are they shut down? Nope, they probably just lost customers- mostly women, who can't join anyway! All of this to say is that the most a person can do is not eat a Chick-fil-a. That's the punishment here. And it's not a big one because so many more people like it than will boycott it.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  12. Valerion

    No, Mr. Mohler, religious liberty is not under threat. This just happens to be a case of people not liking that hate and bigotry are hiding behind the veil of religion, that a whole lot of people are upset that Chick-fil-A donates heavily to anti-gay groups such as NOM and AFA in a bid to deny the rights of a group of people. That is where the outrage is. So sorry you do not agree.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  13. DNA

    Call me a racist, but I was not surprised to see a pudgy white man in a suit arguing this point.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • California

      I'll give you credit, at least you know you are one.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  14. California

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

    August 1, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • what???

      Religious views do not legitimize taking away someone else's freedom. End Of Story. If the best argument you have is that those that don't think like you are stupid, that doesn't say much for yourself.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • California

      what??? – Keep screaming someone is taking away your rights when all he did was use his 1st amendment right. Learn what a right is before spewing. You liberals are great at spewing.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • nigel

      I will happily have an intelligence test with you anytime. IQ, trigonometry, theology, you name it. But you'll lose.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Slovestra

      You are the poster child why Roe vs Wade should remain.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • California

      Slovestra – Poetic justice would be all for abortions should of been aborted.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  15. MSL58

    And what if Chick-fil-a decided to start funding the Klan, would you also say that there is no reason why they should be kept out of major cities? Bigotry is nigotry – even under the guise of religion. In fact – ESPECIALLY under the guise of religion.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  16. Wendy

    I will be at CF today in support of freedom of speech and religion and I will thank God for my chicken sandwich. I will also continue to patronize those establishments that dont agree with my beliefs and will pray for love and sanity to prevail in this nation.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • what???

      Actually, we do not have freedom of speech here in the US. Try and say you are going to shoot the president or go into a theater and kill people. You cannot use your religious beliefs to hurt others, but that is what you are doing. if there is a God, he sure doesn't think like you or the rest of these bigots do.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • Damocles

      And what are you going to do when prayers fail? Stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and go 'la la la' as the world crumbles around you?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:35 am |
  17. California

    I'm surprised that the pro-gay crowd here isn't using the typical all inclusive liberal argument of calling everyone that disagrees with them racists.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Christopher

      I'll call you a bigot. Is that close enough?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • MSL58

      Maybe because it is NOT typical liberal behavior.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:26 am |
    • California

      Christopher – I call you an ignorant idiot and I'm spot on.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • Damocles

      If I'm pro anything, its pro human. Look, you can dislike, hate, disagree with whoever you want, thats your right, but do you have to rant and rave that some supposed higher being gives you carte blanche to do so? You already have the right to do so, nothing else is necessary.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • DNA

      After reading some of your posts, California, all I see you do is call people "idiot" and other names, and then accuse the "liberals" of being nothing but name callers. Do you have *anything* else, because otherwise you're just noise and are mostly just getting laughed at.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • California

      DNA – Over the years of debating with liberals one thing I know for sure. they literally think their chit.doesn't stink. In other words liberals (in their own minds) are never wrong.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      I suspect "California" is that same troll that pops up under a new screen name every few days, making inflammatory remarks just to get attention. He certainly makes the same sort of silly generalizations.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Kane

      It may be the same troll, but then again, bigots all seem to be of one hive mind.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  18. Christopher

    Chick-Fil-A feels victimized? Good. That's called ostracism, and since bigots will never stop being bigoted of their own volition, it's the greatest force for positive change that we have at our disposal. Eventually, the fear of ostracism will outweigh other beliefs or interests. Thus, social progress is made. Welcome to the future.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:21 am |
  19. Slovestra

    The religious self righteous is regurgitating the same arguments that was made against interracial marriage

    August 1, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • what???

      THANK YOU!!! The problem with some people is that they don't study their history.... Ignorance + Arrogance is a dangerous mix

      August 1, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Matt Slick

      You don't drive while you think...do you? If so, let me know the times and freeways you're on so I can stay away. I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  20. Wendy

    I see a lot of disrespect and wild accusations here and its all coming from the pro-gay anti God side. Just an interesting and telling observation. And very disturbing to boot.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • Christopher

      I don't respect bigots, regardless of their religious or corporate affiliations.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • Slovestra

      read on and a little further I am sure you will change your mind as to who is really disrespectful. BTW I am not anti god just pro choice, I have a duty to chose not to follow your religion and to insure our laws are safe from it.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • chelle52370

      You see what you want to see. Meaning, you seem NOT to see a so-called religious group hiding behind a book, spouting intolerance and paying to deny other American citizens equality. And yeah, many of us get really riled up when we see inequality in action. Pretty sure Jesus did, too.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Damocles

      Wendy.... if I say that my religious view allows me to be hateful towards you and to try and rile up others against you, isn't that being disrespectful? I am hating you simply because of who you are, not because of anything you did or said, just because you are you. If you can't see this simple point then I don't know what to do.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • tallulah13

      Wendy: I suspect that you are censoring what you read, or just plain lying. Anyone who's spent any time on these blogs knows exactly how wrong you are.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • Ryan

      Pro gay? Is that like Pro muslim, Pro black, Pro Native American, Pro Female, or Pro hmm Christian?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • clepto

      Nah...more like Pro Football

      August 1, 2012 at 3:25 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.