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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. Brian

    Let's tar and feather people for having beliefs! Then, lets break laws to punish them for having beliefs that you don't like. It's the liberal way.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      No better yet lets support hate.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Edwin

      Don't get too high-and-mighty there... it is very AMERICAN to deny people rights because you don't like what they do. It is something conservatives do just as much as liberals.

      Right now the liberals are acting stupid and reactionary. But in a week's time, conservatives will be doing something at least as stupid.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Brian

      @idogwetrust, Isn't that what you and these wacko politicians are doing? rallying people to hate this company for their beliefs?

      Still, I love how they are all publicly declaring their intent to break the law to attack this guy's company. At least in Illinois we deal with our political criminals, we either send them to jail or the White House.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  2. Douglas

    They write our laws and tell us to bow down to their bronze-age god. I WISH they were threatened.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  3. Adam Jamenson

    This whole thing is just ridiculous. I highly doubt that the demographic of this companies employees are any different than an average fast food company such as this. To think that the mayor of Boston or whoever else would want to punish thousands of workers for the opinion of one man is so absurd. The majority of the workers just treat it as a job as any other and have no interaction whatsoever with the ceo and to hold them accountable for his personal statements is absurd. Talk about getting blown out of proportion, habe we all lost our minds here?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  4. james - St. Paul, MN

    The author is completely off-base to argue that any religious freedoms are being endangered, and the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. I don't care for Chick Fil-A's political commentary, so I simply won't patronize them. They are free to make bad chicken and I am free to ignore them and find nourishment elsewhere. Those who like what the owner of Chick Fil-A stands for can gorge themselves on Chicken everyday to show support and become soulmates with Sarah Palin.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Edwin

      If you avoid Chik-Fil-A because of their politics, that is absolutely your right as a private citizen. But the mayors in these towns are NOT within their rights as government representatives to deny the owners permits based on the owners' stated opinions. The difference is this: a mayor (or other governmental representative) must honor the First Amendment, which protects against government retribution for political or religious views. As a private citizen, you do not have that obligation - so you can boycott them or not.

      It really IS a big deal when mayors of large U.S. cities publicly threaten to violate the First Amendment. It is also ironic that they are supposedly doing so under the guise of "tolerance" - but that is not a big deal.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  5. Teresa

    Puh-leeze...the religous right controls our country, our government, etc. The headline should say that the non-religious people are finally having their say instead of keeping quiet. My mom always told me not to say anything unless I have something nice to say, but I'm done with that...

    July 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      I wish that the comments here represented the majority. It would be very comforting.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Meh

      A-Freakin-Men!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  6. iamgrunge

    Chick-Fil-A's opposition has nothing to do with their religious beliefs. Don't be so dumb. They are being opposed because they are actively funding anti-LGBT organizations. Opposing them has absolutely nothing to due with religion, and your religious beliefs do not exempt you from being shunned for fighting against the rights of people. Your bible is no excuse for donating to such bigoted companies. Stop being an idiot. They are being opposed for their bigotry, not religion.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Joe A.

      and that's their right! you really can't do anything about it.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

      Joe A. And it's other people's right to oppose and boycott businesses that engage in such hate/bigotry. So yes, there is plenty people can do and ARE doing. Duh.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • KRHODES

      No...they are being opposed for their religious beliefs. I believe the same thing Cathy believes..so i am not welcome in Chicago or Boston? That is simple discrimination against ones belief..the government has no right to engage in such activity. Of course conservative cities could find excuses to exclude companies that support gay rights..how right would that be? Of course they would be bigots and whatever the crazed liberals would call them.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      Speaking of idiots.....that's you dear.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • iamgrunge

      Bahahaha. No. There are plenty of other religious companies that are untouched by protesters. Why? Because we respect their religion. We do not respect bigotry. Chick-Fil-A is not being oppressed for their religion, and denying it will not change that.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • KRHODES

      Well then why is it being singled out?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  7. trudeetru

    The biggest stupidest thing is, this is a (restaurant) not a church, a restaurant, no place for making statements about anything except it's food.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • toobad4u

      i would bet many of their "religious" customers would tend to disagree.. I'm willing to bet that good christain families would tend to support businesses that also stand for the same thing they do. Judging from the ballots that were cast in a large marjority of states regarding this whole gay marriage thing.. I'd say they don't have to worry about loosing customers.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      He didn't make the comment at his restaurant – he was being interviewed by a Baptist publication and on a Baptist radio program – both private interviews.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • bluegillonthefly

      Funny you should mention the word "stupid," since the Mr. Cathy made his comments in his capacity as a private individual, speaking in a religious context. In other words, this is about religion, not restaurants, and you're stupid. To make that a little clearer, since you're stupid, poorly educated, and (presumably) leftist – but what other kind of leftist is there? – what is happening is that because of Mr. Cathy's personal religious views, there are municipalities threatening to – and possibly even attempting to – deny business licenses to Chick-Fil-A establishments despite the fact that Chick-Fil-A has not only not been found to have violated any law which would preclude having a business license, but does not even stand accused of having done so.

      To make it even simpler for you, it's the typical leftist take on the First Amendment: free speech and religious liberty are acceptable only to the extent that they agree with leftist opinions. Other speech and beliefs must be both prohibited and punished.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  8. Rob

    I'll have a judgment-fil-a with a side of hypocrisy

    July 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  9. Its not about religious liberty..........

    ...........its about genetically engineered "chicken" drenched in transfat. It'll fry your innards fer sher.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  10. Paul T. Ireland

    Biased much? CNN should not have allowed this guy to make a commentary on this subject. Religious freedom is not under fire.

    I find it amusing that when a religious person wants to legislate their religious morality onto others and violate their civil rights by dictating whom they may marry, what medical procedures they may or may not have, what drugs they may or may not use, etc. but when anyone stands up to them, it means their religious freedom is being threatened.

    Obviously everything in this commentary is biased and false. At least the author admitted to being personal friends with the anti-American bigots he was defending.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Joe A.

      Yes it is.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Edwin

      This is an editorial... so it is opinion. Thus, it is not necessary to find someone who is untouched, unbiased. He clearly places a disclaimer (at the end, perhaps so we don't prejudge his arguments). You can certainly disagree with his points, but that does not make them invalid.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • michael in houston

      I could not have said it any better then you sir. Excellent post and undeniably precise to the point.thank you

      July 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

      First, commentary is an opinion, so, there is no problem with CNN letting this guy make at total a*s of himself. And Joe A., what is "under fire" are people who are living their own lives and these religious nuts are interfering with and telling people what they can and cannot do in regards to their own private relationships. If a Jew does't eat pork, he doesn't launch a war against all the non-Jews that are eating pork. It's really simple. If you don't believe in gay relationships or gay marriage, DON'T ENTER INTO ONE and leave people alone that do because it has NOTHING to do with you.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • whaawhaawhaa

      You broadcast your own ignorance with every word you speak .......

      July 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  11. JasonX

    I absolutely refuse to tolerate intolerance!!! Oh – wait...

    July 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  12. Kevin

    Religious liberty is the abillity to practice your religion and to express your beliefs. Mr. Cathy did just that. It is also freedom of speech to organize again a business that you find discriminatory and not patronize the business. Mr. Cathy has rights but people who think that the Cathys are bad people for their views also have rights. Would you be so bold if Mr. Cathy had said that he thinks passages in the Bible justify slavery.? (That has been said many times in the past).

    July 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

      Religious freedom? Okay, so where do you draw the line? Some people believe in human sacrifice as part of their religion. Religious freedom? No, because it interferes with another person's right to life. What about a person that wants to enter into a relationship with someone else? Who's business is that? If you don't believe in gay relationships, don't enter into one and leave people alone that do, because it has NOTHING to do with you. HATE and bigotry in the name of religion is still hate and bigotry–and ignorance. The fact of the matter is, gay marriage WILL BE LEGAL in all 50 states in the next 1 or 2 decades and there is NOTHING that anyone is going to do to stop it. Twenty years from now, it will be just as unacceptable to say you are against gay marriage as it is now unacceptable to speak out against interracial marriage or to utter a racial slur.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Edwin

      ManWith...: you present a false argument. ADVOCATING an activity is *NOT* the same as ENGAGING in the activity. Chik-Fil-A's owners advocate against gay marriage. That is protected from government persecution by the First Amendment... yes! Even speech you despise is protected by the First Amendment - ESPECIALLY speech that is despised!

      If Chik-Fil-A's owners advocated against interracial marriage or against immigrants, that would ALSO be protected. Or if they railed against a specific religion... so long as they did not discriminate with regards to hiring or serving practices. You don't like their message, but that does not give the government the right to block them. If the company ACTIVELY DENIED people based on orientation, that would be illegal... but saying they don't approve - even giving money to support legal remedies against gay marriage - that is legal and protected.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  13. A Little Common Sense

    Is this guy seriously complaining that it is wrong that someone is intolerant of his intolerance?

    And he's upset that people are forcing their ideologies & it's getting in the way of him forcing his ideology?

    Awww, sounds like someone is upset that the sheep are waking up

    July 31, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  14. Bob

    Wow, what a bunch of whiners.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  15. steve

    Speaking out against religious intolerance is threatening religious liberty? If thats the case, i say we should outlaw all religion and be done with it. We're damned if we do, damned if we don't.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Edwin

      There is nothing wrong with speaking out against Chik-Fil-A... unless you represent the government. If you speak for the government, you cannot deny people or companies access because of their stated religious or political beliefs - that is the exact reason the First Amendment was created.

      If you are a private person, go ahead and rail against Chik-Fil-A. Create a boycott if you want - even buy ads in newspapers. But if you are mayor of a city, do not try and use law to block them from entering your "tolerant" city, because that would be an illegal action.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  16. PraiseTheLard

    Religious Liberty equals the right to remain stupid...

    July 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • luke

      very ignorant comment.... you must get your "news" from al sharpton and other "news" from msnbc huh?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  17. brock

    All religious people are free to express their religious beliefs IN CHURCH.
    no one is saying differently therefore there is no religious discrimination.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  18. What is liberty..........

    ..........if you can't marry who you want to?

    July 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Joe A.

      You can marry who you want to, but you have to be a man and a woman......anything else is fetish.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  19. indogwetrust

    Chick fil a controversy reveals religious bigotry and intolerance.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • OnTheWinningSide

      If it is in "dog" you trust, then you were made in his image and that makes you a son of a b****. Your choice.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • OnTheWinningSide

      I mean a mean comment about you and your nom de plume. I shouldn't have written it and I'm sorry.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  20. Boisepoet

    Headline should read: "Chick-Fil-A Controversy Reveals Religion Keeps People Ignorant and Stuck in the Past"

    July 31, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      That's how i read it.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:36 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.