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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. Wayfaring Stranger

    Praise God for Chick-fil-A!!! I pray they get so many customers today that they run out of food!!! May God be with them and bless them!!! Blessed by the name of Jesus Christ!!!

    August 1, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  2. Edward C.

    Keep your putrid, Dogmatic principles to yourself, and I have no problem. If I want a sermon, I will go to Church. You have your beliefs, I have mine.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  3. Shawn L

    Keep your religion out of my life. That includes laws.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • Edward C.

      Pardon the pun, but Amen!!!!!

      August 1, 2012 at 5:23 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      You mean laws that prohibit government officials from censuring businesses for the believes of the owners right?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  4. Shawn L

    Just as the executives of Chic-fil-a have a right to voice their opinions on anything they wish, people have the right to do the same on Chic-fil-a's political positions. Once you air an opinion, everyone can attack it. That's why smart businesses avoid getting involved in hot topics.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:16 am |
  5. William U.

    Just in case you did not know, GOD did not write the Bible a bunch of old white dudes did. So the only one with the audacity and arrogance here are the people spewing hate across this country.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:01 am |
    • Jeff

      You mean a bunch of old jewish dudes.

      August 1, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • Jan

      "White dudes" did not write the Bible. You ought to get your facts straight before you post.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Facts? He don need no stinkin' facts

      August 1, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  6. JC

    "...religious liberty under threat"
    .
    .
    .
    GOOD!

    August 1, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      I nominate you for the "most concise and clueless statement" award

      August 1, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  7. truth

    We live in a country that has freedom of religion, or freedom from religion.

    I dont see the big "controversy" over someone stating their personal views. We still have the first amendment... right?

    August 1, 2012 at 4:51 am |
    • Shawn L

      State em all you want. And everyone else has the right to state theirs, and the best way is with their wallets.

      August 1, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • Edward C.

      We are supposed to. But these Bible Thumpers think they have the right to force their morals on all of us.

      August 1, 2012 at 5:25 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      It seems many Democratic officials are stumbling over that little amendment

      August 1, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • midwest rail

      @ Bill – Yep. Moreno and Emanuel acted like idiots, and were forced to backpedal. I still think Cathy is wrong, but so were these two nitwits.

      August 1, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  8. Vendella

    I'm gay and my choice is to not eat there but they have every right to operate. Too bad because I love their food.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:47 am |
  9. Bobby

    You are a moron. Your liberties aren't under threat when someone calls your beliefs stupid or intolerant, you're still allowed to have your stupid and intolerant beliefs, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to approve of or support them.

    This whole persecution complex that conservatives have is really childish.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:46 am |
    • Jeff

      You are a troll. Troll logic is eventually weeded out and thrown in the garbage where it belongs.

      August 1, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • Shawn L

      You are 100% correct Bobby.

      August 1, 2012 at 5:18 am |
    • Bob Burns

      Really? liberals claimed to being persecuted when Russian spies declared Alger Hiss to be a Russian spy in the White House, along with 11 others in the FDR and Truman Administrations, they STILL worship Alger Hiss, and the 11 others, now LONG proven to be Russian spies.
      Liberals are the ones claiming to be persecuted by Chick-fil-A, while the opposite is true.
      Have you liberals EVER had a patriotic thought, or IDEA?

      August 1, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  10. JK3234

    Yes of course it is threatening religious freedom as long as it is theirs. This guy bashes on Muslims all day trying to shut down their mosques and telling us that chicken is sacred now.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Show the links where Dan Cathey is bashing muslims please

      August 1, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  11. Hooligan

    fine, here is the deal then..

    Chick-Fil-A can have their stores in Boston if the Muslims can build their Mosque near ground zero.... it's only fair right?

    August 1, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  12. saneCanadian

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO-msplukrw&w=640&h=390]

    August 1, 2012 at 4:06 am |
  13. Faxon

    I sincerely hope this torpedoes Obama's campaign, since the great leader has decided to reverse himself on this politically charged issue. As with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama flips instantly where votes are concerned. America isn't buying it, Mr BO.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:55 am |
    • Guest

      Chick-fil-a has a right to express their beliefs and I have the right to not eat there ever again. It's that simple.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • shazaam

      What does this have to do with Obama? Have you suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury?

      August 1, 2012 at 5:05 am |
  14. Bishop Hairy Palms

    Religious wackos have been boycotting companies and anything and everything else they don't agree with for decades.

    Why are they whining when non religious people do it?

    August 1, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Tom Truthteller

      You use the word "wackos." I guess that is just your way of being intolerant of people who don't walk in lock step with you?

      August 1, 2012 at 4:10 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Whackos seems like an appropriate term to describe people who believe superstitious magical thinking is true. UFO abductees are whacko but you would have no argument with that now would you? Funny how when it comes to religion somehow the bullshit detector gets turned off.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:17 am |
    • Tom Truthteller

      Atheist Steve........there is one large fault in the arguments of Atheists when you show your intolerance of people who don't live with eyes closed. Those of us who believe in God can look around at the world we live in and see genius everywhere. We can see it in the design of animals, plants and humans, in the complexity of design, in the changes a woman's womb goes through to protect and nurture a child and all of the other things that just don't happen because of happenstance. It's not magic, it's a brilliant architect who is infinitely more intelligent than humans. We understand that we are limited in our ability to understand the supernatural. Atheists think that they are so bright that all things within the universe must be explained by them or they can't exist.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:35 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      A perfect example of the argument from personal incredulity or the argument from ignorance fallacy. Eg: I can't fathom how such a thing could occur from natural processes therefore "God did it". Pretty lame and then you go on to say that non-believers think we have all the answers. Far from it. There are a great many things that remain unknown and until satisfactory explanations for those things emerge they remain just that.....unknown. Only the religious are egotistical enough to think they have the ultimate answers to things unknown. But for the things that we do have a solid understanding of there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for the intervention of some deity. Plants, animals, gestation and a myriad of other natural occurrences are easily accounted for in completely natural terms and processes. Only the ignorant and gullible leap to superstition to explain what they don't understand.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:51 am |
    • Edward C.

      We use the word "wackos", because you don't get it when we don't want to hear your rhetoric. As much as you have the Freedom of Religion, I have the Right to be FREE from Religion. It is a two way street!!!!

      August 1, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • Jan

      There is a huge difference between simply not buying a product or entering the place where products are sold and purposely taking up space to prevent customers (the usual lunch crowd) from being able to purchase food while deliberately engaging in acts that aren't normally engaged in at a restaurant during lunch.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  15. mswhipple

    You can tell that religious liberty is under threat in American just by the way most Americans react to Tom Cruise's religion of choice!

    August 1, 2012 at 3:46 am |
  16. Observer

    Hypocrisy, plain and simple.

    Gays and their proponents think it's perfectly fine for them to discriminate against anyone who doesn't like them, but heaven forbid if anyone discriminates against THEM. If a religious mayor told a gay company they weren't welcome in their city, people would go nuts, but it's acceptable for a pro-gay mayor to do so to a religious company, all because that company has a different opinion on the issue.

    And no, I'm not religious. Far from it.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • Evolved.

      So, do you feel the same way about the Montgomery Bus boycott of 1955? You clearly sound annoyed that there are people that want all humans to have basic human rights. Would you say the same thing about a boycott of a company, because the owner said interracial marriage was wrong? I hope that someday you are able to evolve, although that hope is a pretty dim bulb.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • Hooligan

      um, they DID do this.. for a good chunk of the past 4 decades.

      where you been?

      August 1, 2012 at 4:11 am |
    • Tom Truthteller

      You speak the truth.........thank you..........I'm sure a bunch of intolerant liberals will jump all over what you said. That's what they do.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:19 am |
    • Tom Truthteller

      Evolved invokes the Montgomery Bus boycott of 1955. Most likely, Evolved would not mention the group of 99 members of Congress who signed the Southern Manifesto the next year, which attempted to turn back the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education and which established segregation in education. That group consisted of 97 Democrats and 2 Republicans. That would be an inconvenient truth.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:48 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Thank God for non-religious people who see the value of freedom of religion.

      August 1, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  17. mountaindawg

    The first amendment says, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech". It says nothing about a mayor or councilman denying a business license. Now, I believe that it's wrong for Rahm et.all to say they wouldn't allow Chick fil A in their cities. However, the notion that religious liberty is under attack is completely ridiculous. There is a law that says that if you promote a certain candidate over another from the pulpit, you lose your tax exempt status. Well, how many evangelical churches promote "their" candidates? I'll give you a hint. Boatloads. But do they lose their tax exempt status? No. Hell, the government bends over backwards, especially for the catholic church, for religion. All you have to do is look at the Westboro BAPTIST church to realize this. Get a grip. This ain't ancient Rome. You're not being fed to the lions. Anytime someone "offends" a church, all of a sudden religious liberty is being threatened. Please.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:39 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      So as long as you feel it's wrong, we should go with that huh?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  18. SixDegrees

    If southern baptists weren't so intent on ramming their cult down everyone's throats through force of law, reactions when they show their true colors would likely be a lot less harsh. As it is, though, they are a foundational threat to the Republic that must be opposed at every turn.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • saneCanadian

      LIKE

      August 1, 2012 at 4:04 am |
    • Tom Truthteller

      I guess you are being funny by employing irony right? I mean, it is obviously the gay community shoving their lifestyle choice down our collective throats and using the court system and ACLU lawyers to do their bidding.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  19. Dan

    If we keep going down the path that Republicans/Religious Right wants us to go, not long from now the likes of Osama Bin Laden will be crying threat on religious liberty rants for foiling their terror plots.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • Damocles

      Its already happening with their cries of 'my religion allows for honor killings'.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:33 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Can you show where religious persecution has been used as a defense for murder in a U.S. court?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  20. Anne

    Religious freedom does not include hate speech... hiding behind the bible or any other religion in order to spew hatred against a group of others is not okay. Believe what you want, but make billboards that say God Hates X? Don't think God or Jesus or any deity would approve...

    August 1, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Tom Truthteller

      And stating that you believe in traditional marriage.........you know, the kind that has existed for 5,000 years, that is somehow "hate speech" in your mind? Since you have never read the Bible, or at least is sure sounds like it, maybe you should understand that God gave humans something called "free will." That means that it disappoints God when people turn from Him and make decisions that don't please Him. As my Baptist pastor and the two before him have always said: "show gay people love." They didn't say; "jump on the politically correct bandwagon and ignore what God says. You call it have because you wouldn't be willing to take the time to go into an Evangelical church and hear what real Christians really say. It's too easy to make dogmatic statements in live in a cloistered, liberal world.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:16 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.