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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. SCOTTY

    its so funny how the people who want inclusion for gays say that christians can't be free to say they are opposed to gay marriage. they are the hypocrites.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      You can oppose what you want. But treating others as inferior is wrong.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Jimbo

      I don't understand why they call themselves Christians.....there is nothing in there philosophy that resembles the teachings of Jesus Christ.

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

      Outline for us what the model Christian is supposed to be like, Jimbo.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  2. ArthurP

    Tell that to all the women in the US who are not allowed to control their own bodies.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  3. Sam

    Are you kidding me? You are leaving QUITE a bit out of this story. This company doesn't keep their opinion to themselves but directly funds anti-gay organizations. But I guess this is an opinion story after all, wish I could get paid to spread this crap around.....

    July 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Janet H

      Oh....that's a big difference. Then this isn't really about free speech. I don't care what this guy thinks, but if he's funding anti-gay organizations then he deserves what he gets.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Aimee

      They have the right to support what they want. Many companies support things for which their company believes in. What about supporting pro-life or pro-choice groups? The only reason this is so huge is because people are making it that way. Those who are creating an uproar are treating those who don't agree with them as inferior.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • JB

      And? I believe that's the money that their company made. I'm pretty sure they can spend it wherever they please.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  4. abcdxyz

    We've become a bunch of wimps in this country when we are all afraid when anyone says something we disagree with. Freedom of speech largely means that each of us will be subjected to what we consider a bunch of ridiculous crap from those who do not think as we do. Get over it! The Chick-Fil-A owner has a right to his opinion, and a right to express it. If it irritates me enough, I can avoid patronizing his restaurants. I also have the right to say that I disagree with him, which I do.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • John D

      I agree. I really don't like his comments, but ultimately who cares what he thinks–it's his right. It's not necessary for everyone to go ballistic every time someone says something stupid or a politician makes a mistake. I'll never have chicken at one of his places, though. (oh...of course i am a vegetarian and wouldn't dream of eating his product anyway.....)_.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • narutogrey

      You are mis-interpretting the 1st amendment regarding freedom of speech. The 1st amendment says that people have the freedom of speech without fear of presecution by the government. It does not say you can say whatever you want and not have consequences. The only consequence that's avoided is prosecution.

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

    this is nothing new and it has nothing to do with religion it is simply a free speech issue. You can say whatever you want, the part everyone acts surprised by is that people are allowed to not support you after you say that. It has nothing to do with morality just popularity. TV shows like family guy and south park have lost sponsorship for things they have said just the same and I am sure Chick Fill a wouldn't see anything wrong with that. As for the mayors of Chicago and Boston they are doing what they know will get them votes it is politically smart not a huge moral statement, if they really felt that strongly Rahm Emanuel would push mirage rights for gays much harder. So stop whining what chick fill a said was hateful towards a group of people and now they are feeling the backlash.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  6. Dana

    Religious freedom is in no way under attack. Cathy is free to express any opinion he wants, It is wrong (and probably illegal) for a city to ban an business establishment because of the owner's religious opinions. With freedom, however, consequences. Despite support from conservative Christians, I think the marketplace will ultimately decide against this eatery. In 2012, the American customer has generally become more tolerant, accepting, and open-minded–maybe more god-like? Many sort of know that "The Bible" is subject to hundreds of different "interpretations" and know any interpretation that "feels good" is one that simply confirms personal bias. Proof that Americans have–in general–become more accepting of "the other" is that Cathy's expression has generated so much outrage, with "old tradition" being put on the defensive.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • srd

      No City or State can ban Chick-Fil-A from anything they hold open to other similar businesses. Ask the City of Philadelphia and their $1 million dollar payout to the BSA for trying to kick them out of City-subsidized housing.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  7. greentravisp

    This is ludicrous. No one's "religious freedom" is under fire. No one is saying CFA / Cathy doesn't have the right to believe whatever their archaic and laughably indefensible religions want them to. But the opposition also has every right to boycott those beliefs. The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak and believe freely, but it DOES NOT give immunity to the consequences of those beliefs. Organizations and individuals who take public positions on subjects should expect to be judged accordingly.

    Shame on CNN for lending credence to the "author."

    July 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Mark

      But Rahm and co, did not say "boycott" (perfectly legal) they stated they wanted to do everything in their power to not allow them to open up franchises within their districts. Because they found offense with someone personal beliefs, they replied with threats of discrimination; kinda the opposite of the tolerance they they so fervently preach.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  8. AJA

    Seriously? The company can do as it pleases, but I don't have to buy from them. Many other companies out there have very conservative beliefs, but they don't broadcast them. And since he's chosen to tell me what he believes, I've chosen not to patronize his stores. I don't go to Dominos either. Can corporations have religious freedom? Oh wait, corporations are people...

    July 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  9. Angelica

    I think it is dumb how people are being rude to chickfila. They are just using their first amendment rights to say what they believe. It is not like they are trying to force you to believe the same thing they do. If you don't support their beliefs then don't eat there but you don't have to be so rude. They are not saying that they don't like gays or lesbians. Get over yourselves. Really.

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

      Actually they are saying that by saying that a gay family is inferior or wrong. Seems pretty hateful to me.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • indogwetrust

      Yes they are. It might be a round about way but they are.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Mark

      @RJW-that's why the gay movement has become such a polarizing movement. If some disagrees with them, there's no "agree to disagree" and I'll take my business elsewhere, its you are a hater, blah, blah, blah...Angelica's right, you can't have democracy on only gay terms...

      July 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • RJW

      @Mark: I consider it pretty hateful if an organization is ACTIVELY involved in denying me the right to marry somebody. I am gay. So what. You don't have to like it. I'm not asking you to. You are free to shout it to the rooftops that you hate it. But you don't have the right to actively interfere in my life. There's a big difference. I'm not asking people to like me or like gay people. That's fine. It's the ACTIVE assualt against me that I'm against. Chic-fil-A supports groups that actively work against my right. That's hate. Period. If you don't see that then you are just as guilty of it as they are.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  10. rob nourse

    This is only a partial explanation of why people are upset with Chik-Fil-A. The company attempted to manipulate social media by creating false accounts with stock photos where the purported "owners" defended Chik-Fil-A. This inflamed the discussion by creating the impression the company was being dishonest while portraying itself as holding the moral high ground. They still deny it in their facebook page but it's not a very convincing defence.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Ntrain2k

      Proof of that?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • srd

      and you've got dispositive proof to refute the denials? oh right you don't.

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

      Just in case someone doesn't know what he's referring to: http://failbook.failblog.org/2012/07/25/funny-facebook-fails-in-which-chick-fil-a-pretends-to-be-a-teenaged-girl/

      July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  11. John Bentley

    The government should not be in the business of denying permits based on someones free speech. Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy and should be protected even for the most oppressive organizations, whether it be the KKK or Chik Fil A. I on the other hand am a private citizen, and can resist the pull of their delicious chicken if I want to. As for me and my house... We will be served no chik fil a.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  12. nestor

    hey when you will go to eat a chicken , the chicken don't ask if youa are a gay or lesbian , you are eating what are the problem with this rain bow people

    July 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  13. RJW

    So I guess it's ok for so-called religious leaders like the writer to want to impose their beliefs on society. It's perfectly ok for them to deny gay people's rights because it violates their pathetic "Christian" principles. Last time I looked the Bible wasn't the law of the land. Keep your morals in your families and church and out of my life. I'll live my life and you live yours. All you are is a bigot and hater. Plain and simple,.

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

      Can I not argue that we are imposing our belief's on each other right now on this blog? Thousands of people are, millions maybe. Its called democracy...I'm sure your not going to advocate shutting down this blog, so we shouldn't be advocating shutting down Chik-Fil-A based on the CEO's personal beliefs..

      July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • RJW

      I'm not advocating shutting down Chic-fil-A. I don't agree with the Mayors. But I will call out Mr. Cathy on what I believe to be his hateful statements. I will never understand why being gay is an issue anyway. Nobody would ever know it about me. I just live my life. I don't wear a sign. So what if I want to marry another man. How is that your business? You are in fact imposing your views on me if I'm not allowed to marry. How exactly are you hurt if I can marry another man? You're not. I just want to live my life and be left alone. Unfortunately the religious zealots want to force the Bible down my throat and force me to live by something I don't believe ini.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  14. Troy

    And yet, the author and his ilk would likely think nothing of opposing an 'adult entertainment' business opening in his community, because he doesn't like the values represented. Hypocrisy.

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

      Not really. The adult entertainment businesses tend to attract a lot of rather sleezy people which then affects other businesses around them. I am not a fundamentalist Christian and I would actively oppose one opening near my home.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • aaron

      I think you missed the point of an article. I'm going to be polite and just assume that you did not read the article. You are comparing a chicken restaurant to an establishment that is morally-challenging no matter the religion or lack thereof.

      Chick-fil-a is a restaurant. A newspaper asked its company president on his views of gay marriage. Now the city wants to ban Chick-fil-a because of his religious affiliation even though it has nothing to do with the fact that their restaurants just sell food. Are you suggesting that we survey every business owner in a city about their religious views and if they don't "pass" they must surrender their business license?

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

      Aaron – YOU missed the point. If you are going to stick your moral viewpoints out in public, you'd best be prepared to be judged on them. Seriously, who doesn't think an adult store is making a statement of some kind, at the least that they have no problem with what they sell? Well, Chick-fil-a made a public statement too, and spends large amounts of money funding groups that believe as they do. If you believe a community can say 'we don't want THAT kind of business and their public image in our midst' to the adult shop, isn't it a tad hypocritical to complain when they do the SAME to a different business? Chick-fil-a is responsible for their public image – now they have to own any backlash they get for it. One is seen to sell vice, the other publicly supports hate. What exactly is the difference?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  15. cc

    Rather ironic that the G&L crowd is always screaming for tolerance yet they are so intolerant of those who disagree with them.

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

      I'm tolerant up to the point where they interfere in my right to marry. That's not their business or right.

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

      @RJW

      In this case, these people sell chicken. Does the business of Chick-fil-a harm you?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • RJW

      @aaron: They do inasmuch as they support organizations that actively work against that right. I don't want to close the restaurants. The Mayors are wrong. But I don't have to eat there and I'm free to call out what I believe to be Mr. Cathy's hateful statements about gay people.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • aaron

      @RJW

      Fair enough.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  16. Mass Debater

    What is religious liberty?

    Liberty – 1: the quality or state of being free: a : the power to do as one pleases b : freedom from physical restraint c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges.

    If you have the power to do as you please, that's all well and good up to the point you infringe on someone elses ability to do the same. Religious liberty is as much about freedom from religion as it is freedom of religion.

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

      So what freedom has been taken away from you SOLEY because of Chik-Fil-A?? You make a very poorly supported arguement..

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  17. A Little Common Sense

    Listening to religious people complain about stuff like this is like listening to a dictator complain, when he starts to lose power, about how unjust and unfair the peoples' demands for rights and fair treatment are, and how corrupt a system is that allows the people have a voice.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  18. ironman59

    Chick-Fil-A has no problem being financially profitable off a group of people they would not openly higher. They have done so for decades and in fact have had gays as owners. I know of at least 1 franchisee in my state that is own by a gay couple and that goes back 30 years.

    This has nothing to do with religious freedom or liberty. Chick-Fil-A is not a religous organization, they are not protected under any seperation of church & state laws. They put their opinion out into the public arena and now they are suffering the consequences of public opinion.

    Chick-Fil-A wants to have it both ways. I haven't heard one statement that they will give back every penny they ever made from selling to gays. If they find it so disgusting then they should not accept business from them. Additionally, the public and local governments have the right to fight to keep a business that openly discriminates out of it's community. It's called "Community Standards" and is the same tactic the far right has used to keep things out of it's community that it did not want (like blacks, minorities, adult stores, etc).

    Simple fact is there is no attack on religious liberty because this isn't a worship issue. Nobody said that Cathy had to let gays into his church, changes when he worships or anything that is protected by law. This has to do with a publicly licensed company (i.e. needs a business permit) to face the rath of their discrimination. So, far right fanaticals – get over it because this is public opinion and community standards at work. You don't like it because your own tool is being used against you.

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

      maybe next time you'll read up on the facts of the story before you decide to word vomit? it would probably help you avoid looking like such an idiot.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Ntrain2k

      Well said srd.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Mark

      Ironman, you kinda made the arguement FOR Chick-Fil-A when you stated that they sold franchises to gay owners. Sounds like either tolerance or good business sense to me. I don't think Chick-Fil-A is trying to do anything other than sell chiken. The owners believe in traditional marriage..Big Deal..

      July 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  19. jamesbrummel

    Saying "you guys are so intolerant for not allowing folks like ChcikAFil to promote bigotry" is like saying the Fire Department is full of arsonists.

    How is obeying the law preventing anyone from practicing their religion? . We have one law in the US and one class - citizen. If law contradicts your faith, tough. The faithful need to adapt, not force others to submit.

    Your faith = your sacrifice, not mine.

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

      Did you read the article?

      A Baptist newspaper asked of his opinion on gay marriage.

      How is that "promoting bigotry"?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • JB

      aaron, Mr. Cathy opposes gay marriage. Obviously that makes the man a bigot. When you oppose something that means you hate it. I oppose uncooked broccoli over steamed, obviously I hate broccoli and any device that is unable to steam it to the proper level of tenderness. C'mon now, this mentality isn't exactly rocket science.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  20. Edwin

    As a liberal, I cannot abide the sort of discrimination that has been threatened against Chik-Fil-A. Their political donations and anti-gay-marriage stance do not agree with my views at all, but attacking them is utterly un-American. It is so clearly against Free Speech to block a company from operating in your city because you do not like the stated political views of the owners.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with boycotting them, if you feel their goals are wrong. But there is absolutely nothing right about denying them permits based on their stated beliefs and goals, either.

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

      i agree, there should be no legal recourse against them until they break a law.

      oops, their charity actively discriminates against gays. Since the charity receives public funds, that violates gays right to peaceable assembly and free association.

      However any citizen or leader is free to lead a boycott, disparage these un american bigots any time they like, and I say where there is smoke there is fire, I'll bet dollars to donuts ChickAFil discriminates against their "unfaithful" employees.

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

      @ Jamesbrummel-which charity, and which law has been broke?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 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.