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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. tim young

    Have you noticed that people call themselves Christians but have hatred towards other people. GOD loves all his people but he just hates the sin. I tell you this day the same spirit that raised JESUS from the dead which is the Holy Spirit must dwell in you to be one of GODS Children. Call me anything you want so as long as GODs HOLY SPIRIT dwells in me. John 1
    King James Version (KJV)
    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    2 The same was in the beginning with God.
    3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
    4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
    5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not
    BY the way here is a scriputure for those of you who post these hateful comments on this type of media
    Matthew 12:36 KING JAMES VERSION
    But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  2. WDinDallas

    So, someone was reading a Baptist newspaper and found this. It appears to me the Neo-Liberals are on a censor and destroy mission. I doubt if any of them are Baptist!

    August 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  3. Liam

    It would be nice if we could get rid of all the churches, mosques and synogogues, but until then I'll be content with elected officials telling bible thumpers to not be so stupid

    August 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yeah and get rid of hospitals and universities too! And books! We don't need no books!

      August 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  4. Joe

    There is nothing Christian in the hatred spouted by Chick fil A.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      There are as many definitions of "Christian" as there are christians in the world.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      That's it Joe, censor and destroy like a good Neo-Liberal

      August 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @WDinDallas

      Hmmm...strange. In the very short comment by Joe, I didn't see anything resembling an attempt to censor, or to destroy. I think your partisanship is getting the best of you.
      I doubt you'll even read or comprehend what I'm saying, but oh well.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • cbc

      And there's nothing rational about labeling everything you don't agree with as "hate". Joe McCarthy would be prouid of you.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It's funny how so many christians call anyone who doesn't believe what they do a "hater", then turn around and say that difference of opinion isn't "hate".

      August 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  5. mike

    Fun fact: the southern-style chicken sandwich at McD's is EXACTLY THE SAME as Chick-fil-A's signature sandwich. If you love Chick-fil-A but hate funding hate groups, just go to Mickey-D's...

    August 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Shouldn't you do your due diligence and find out what McD's stance is first?

      August 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  6. Russell

    You've got it mostly wrong.

    I agree with you that I don't like public officials talking about legally preventing Chick-Fil-A from opening a restaurant in their districts, but they have a right to express an opinion that Chick-Fil-A is not welcome, just as Cathy is welcome to his opinion about the "biblical" definition of marriage. However, Cathy's "opinion" bleeds into supporting anti-gay marriage legislation, and that's where you're dead, dead wrong. Your Bible might define marriage a certain way, but guess what...here's a shocker...not everyone in the country believes in your faith. AND, this country was founded on the separation of church and state. AND, the practice of a "boycott" is also in line with our country's founding, something lost on the Tea Party idiots who named their organization after it.

    So, I don't have to eat Cathy's chicken (boycott), and Cathy can say whatever he wants (freedom of speech). BUT, if he gives money to groups trying to outlaw gay marriage, then he is the one on the attack (human rights), and he's in for a virtual fight (protests, outrage, etc.).

    August 6, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Ben

      You just stated that there is separation of church and state right? So why does the government give rights toward a traditionally religious ceremony such as marriage? Where are the "separation of church and state people" on that one?

      How about we give the word marriage back to the church, and let people decide who they want the power of their estate to go to on their own...

      August 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  7. mike

    "Freedom of religion" does not protect your right to impose your religious beliefs on anyone else...there is a line there. Otherwise, "freedom of religion" cancels itself out.

    It's not what this guy said that is the problem. The PROBLEM is his actions...his funding of efforts that try to impose his beliefs on those with DIFFERENT beliefs in the public arena. In other words, HE is the true threat to freedom of religion. He has every right to define marriage within the context of his religion. He has no right to impose his definition on the secular definition of marriage. NONE. ZERO. The instant he tries to back up a position on public policy with the Bible, his entire argument is forfeit.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Actually mike all citizen, even you, have the right to promote a political agenda using any information they choose; or no information whatsoever. The problem in this situation is when politicians begin to reward or deny government services based on individuals opinions and actions. The fact that some many left leaning pols jumped on this bandwagon before they could be reigned in indicates to me how far the left is willing to go to get their agenda across.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  8. Ivan

    Any company can take a stand on these types of issues if they want. It is also the right of people to call these companies on their views. You can't support a policy based on your religion, then use religion as a way to limit criticism. For at the end of the day, why is the religious view the more important voice to be heard?

    August 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  9. frdoneau

    The Chick-Fil-A PR stunt had little to do with freedom of speech, traditional marriage, or christian values. It had everything to do with reaping a windfall profit using an emotional hot-button issue and taking advantage of the gullibility of a few hundred thousand naive patrons.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  10. mike

    Until some local government actually passes a law banning a business based on something its owner said, this is a stupid waste of time. Just shut up. Christians are the least persecuted demographic in this country. Stop freaking whining, you ridiculous babies.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Mike

      The mayors of Chicago and Boston, plus the NYC council president telling Chick-fil they were not welcome in their cities was the threat. People deciding not to give money to a company that is anti-gay is freedom of choice.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  11. SlayFalseGod

    Church's should pay taxes and Dan Cathy can go to hell for not only judging other Americans but for donating millions to keep them from their pursuit of Life Liberty and the American way.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  12. Myto Senseworth

    Good article....... Freedom of speech and religion is the reason anyone can have an opinion and speak it publicly. This includes the gay community.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • opoT

      Nah, they're different.

      Genetic mutational failures.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • SlayFalseGod

      As if the Church hasnt been censoring their " flock " since day 1.
      Now you have a Corporate Master , too

      August 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • mike

      Actually, this nation is founded on the principle that such freedoms are birth rights...not granted by a piece of paper.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  13. fbrillo

    This isnt an attack on Religion or Christian values...its an attack on people that want to impose their way of thinking on others...their sense of religion... and to change the laws of this country to reflect those beliefs... What happened to "the pursuit of happiness"?

    I see the radical Christian Right to be much like the TALIBAN..with the same goals... a Theocratic state based only on one religion.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Bri

      @Fbrillo– In what way did Chick-Fil-A "impose their values" onto others? One man said one opinion in a religious interview. He never said he was going to change the law. Did you even read his interview?

      So what you are saying is, no one is allowed to speak their opinion? Only what one person thinks of as positive speech is allowed? Sounds a lot like censorship. Remember, nobody was hurt or attacked or treated anything, no gay or straight person was involved. Just Dan Cathy.

      Sounds like Liberals are the ones forcing their opinions and thoughts down other people's throats.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • midwest rail

      @ Bri – Mr Cathy and his supporters are the ones attempting to codify, thru civil legislation, the behavior of gay people. Let's turn the tables and make divorce and adultery illegal. Guess how many Christians would support that.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Michelle

      Religious groups are not changing laws they are preserving them, LGBT groups are changing them. The law as it stands today in most states is that a man cannot marry a man and a woman cannot marry a woman.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • cbc

      It's ironic that you obviously can't see that every statement you make also applies to the other side of this discussion:

      "its an attack on people that want to impose their way of thinking on others" – by unconsitutionally threatening their ability to do business in their area.

      " to change the laws of this country to reflect those beliefs" – isn't his exactly what the LGBT groups are after?

      "I see the radical Christian Right to be much like the TALIBAN..with the same goals... a Theocratic state based only on one religion" The radical left is at least as intolerant as the "radical Christian Right" – and their goal is a Humanistic state where the only religion allowed is no religion.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • tallulah13

      cbc, when one is trying to legalize religious discrimination, it is unconsti/tutional. This is exactly why the Founding Fathers separated church from state. The rights of the individual come before the whims of religion.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Name one law that legalizes religious discrimination please.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Proposition 8 in California. Religious groups were behind the law that denies the right of marriage to gays and lesbians. It's on it's way to being challenged in the Supreme Court, because it was overturned for being unconst.itutional.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  14. angelique

    I thought when I saw the headline you meant chick fil a 's attacks on liberty... ya know the fact that they use a portion of their profit to attack the ability for certain Americans to have the liberty to marry? "I choose to live this way so should you??" Liberty?

    August 6, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • bignevermo

      good post angelique! A lot of the people seem to think it was only what Cathy has said that is the problem...the problem is that CFA is donating millions to groups that support the discrimination of a minority group!! that simple!

      August 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  15. Matto

    I think that the Cathy family has the right to believe what they want. As private citizens, they have the right to their opinion. However, when you attach you company/business to your personal beliefs, like a religious backed definition of marriage, you are asking for trouble. I don't think Dan is wrong to believe what he believes, however I think it was a stupid business move to attach his company to it. When he said our company's husbands are married to their wives, does that mean they don't hire gays? Who knows. It sounded like an absolute statment to me.

    And am I suprised that a COO of a company with long traditions of religous heritage is against gay marriage or for the traditional biblical definition of marriage? Absolutely not. Was I suprised that he leveraged/attached is company to his message? Kinda, yeah. Will I still eat at Chic-fil-a? Yes. Its a good restaurant, with good food, and almost always great service. I do feel a little bad for Chic-fil-a, only because their COO made some unfortunate remarks on its behalf. Again, Dan can believe whatever he wants to, its his right, and I do not fault him for that. However, if I was a cashier at a Chic-fil-a restaurant, I'd be pretty mad at my COO for causing all of this unneeded notoriety I'm experiencing with protests, and "kiss-ins," which also was a dumb move on the part of the LGBT community.

    Both sides have reacted very poor to this whole situation. In the end, its still Dan Cathy's fault for making comments of behalf of his company, when the Southern Baptist Convention would have probably been happy with just Dan Cathy and his beliefs, and not also Chic-fil-a.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:08 am |
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    August 6, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  17. MET

    I find the entire article a bit naive. I remember as a child and young adult, the church constantly coming up with a list of companies that are "ungodly" and that no christian should do business with. If a company did anything other than loudly profess their christian faith, they were labeled as athiest, and we were instructed to boycott them. Seems like maybe the churches have been the first to throw punches for a long time now.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  18. Lee

    The Cathys run a privately held company and are allowed to have and express their views. What I don't understand is how elected officials can can take a stance that does not allow equality to all with regards to expressing their opinions. Public officials are certainly allowed their personal opinions, but should not use a public office to reprimand business leaders who do not share their views. Stating that we should kick out their businesses or keep them out is about as unpatriotic as you can get. Have Liberals forgotten how this nation was built? Is the economy so good in their communities that they can afford to suppress jobs?

    August 6, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      My belief, and that of others, is that the left has decided it's time for the gloves to come off in their grab for ultimate power and thus they are more brazen in their efforts to stilt opposition

      August 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I don't agree with the political grandstanding either. But as a consumer, I like to know when a company financially supports causes I don't agree with. Chick-fil-a has donated millions to groups that seek to legalize discrimination. Knowing that, those of us who believe discrimination is wrong can chose to avoid Chick-fil-a. There are plenty of other businesses who sell food without an attached political agenda.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  19. Waiting

    I agree, but isn't the reverse also true? Doesn’t Chick-fil-A also threaten freedom when anyone dares to disagree or question their beliefs? Would it not be better to keep their beliefs and let others have theirs?

    August 6, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • speakertim

      Waiting, how does Chick-fil-A threaten freedom of those that disagree with them? What power do they have to do that? Political leaders have the power to threaten, what can Chick-fil-A do? Serve them cold chicken? By all accounts, the restaurant staff is very friendly and curtious.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • sam stone

      "Waiting, how does Chick-fil-A threaten freedom of those that disagree with them?"

      By voting to have unequal marriage rights?

      August 6, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Allyson

      @speakertim, by where the company money goes.

      Exodus International? Pray the gay away services not approved of by the APA, resulting in psychological damage of their patients.

      Family Research Council? $25,000 to lobby US Congress to not condemn Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill.

      There is far more damage to be done than "cold chicken." The issue does not run with the personal beliefs of a company, but rather what they do with our money.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      sam – They are threatening freedom by voting? Did you really just say that?

      August 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Sorry Allyson when you give them your money for their chicken it becomes their money

      August 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
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    August 6, 2012 at 3:35 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.