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?


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. tabledad

    R. Al – You have the privilege of living in a country that allows individuals the freedom of speech. However, this freedom is not a guarantee that the general populace will love you when they consider your words reprehensible. The opportunistic behavior of politicians is a consequence, not a threat.

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

      "religious liberty" = a license to be hateful and intolerant

      What if they said they would not serve obese people?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  2. Weatherthestorm

    People have the right to openly disagree with Mr. Cathy's position and not buy food at Chick-Fil-A in protest. Vote with your wallet so to speak. Similarly, he has a right to express his views and operate his business as long as his company doesn't discriminate in hiring practices. If politicians running the government could selectively decide what acceptable speech is and then regulate your job or company based on what you say, you just better hope Big Brother and you are in agreement.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • James PDX

      Don't worry. It's just the usual political bluster. None of these mayors will be allowed to stop a Chikin franchise, despite the fact Mr. Cathy and company has put a lot of money into stopping gays from having equal rights.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  3. kevin

    It's okay to attack gays, but not religion.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  4. blahblahblah

    “We are a city that believes our diversity is our greatest strength, and we will fight anything and anyone that runs counter to that.” hahaha! Contradiction?

    That's like saying, "We are not violent people, and we'll beat up anybody that says we are."

    July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • James PDX

      What do you expect from a politician. They all think we're even more stupid than they are. But he did get the general sentiment right even if he said it like a moron.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Buster

      I'm glad other people noticed that. Pretty hilarious. If I lived in Chicago or Boston I'd be pretty hurt that the city officials I elected are claiming they'll kick "anyone" (me) out for believing the way that I believe.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  5. glorydays

    When is the US going to figure out that a small group of hillbilly, loud mouthed radicals cant determine the direction of the country?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  6. Ken Margo

    Let your money talk. If you don't like the restaurants position, DON'T GO THERE. Once the money dries up things will change. Use the same logic for the catholic church. If you don't like the church's position, DON'T GIVE THEM ANY MONEY.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  7. Jonathan

    The funny thing is if you take the whole "the bible says" "god tells us..." non sense out of the equation you realize discriminating against gays and their right to marry someone they love and adopt a kid etc. just makes you know what!! It makes you nothing but a bigot. How can you worship a god that clearly hates on a particular group of people. The Old Testament (and the New Testament to an extent) both support slavery and clearly lay out guidelines and little tidbits on owning slaves and their treatment etc. Yet for some reason the gays are blasphemous! God forbid they want to cement their love for one another legally. It seems common sense and love (if there ever was any of any significance) is what is under attack. The fundamentalists of any particular religion are still free to be bigots and hateful folk in general.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  8. RCC

    so what does it mean when it seems to take your post but it doesn't post it?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Used a word CNN considers a no no.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  9. achepotlex

    Who would have thought the Christian Taliban would make an attack under the guise of a chicken chain...sort of reminds me of Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • ArthurP

      And we all know what happened to him ....

      July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • A Little Common Sense

      How much do you want to bet we wouldn't be seeing the same outrage about rights being violated from Moehler if the issue was cities forcing their residence to go to church once a week.

      He doesn't care about rights, he just cares about progressing his oppressive and intolerant agenda. Don't put it in the disguise of being concerned about rights. If he cared about peoples' rights, this wouldn't be his agenda.

      That being said, if they did deny a license based on this (especially in states that don't allow gay marriage), depending on how they did it, they would likely being violating chick-fil-a's rights.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  10. ephraim

    ridiculous. his haircut says it all...

    July 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  11. RCC


    July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  12. A Little Common Sense

    What is the govt. interest in regulating marriages? How does a gay marriage not achieve that interest/outcome they desire?

    And don't tell me it's about being able to have kids and start families, b/c then we have to start denying the right to get married to any sterile people & gay couples can adopt kids and raise families just like anyone else

    July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  13. ArthurP

    A few excerpts from an article called: Marriage by Barbara G. Walker

    The word marriage came from the Latin maritare, union under the ausp.ices of the Goddess Aphrodite-Mari.  Because the Goddess's patronage was constantly invoked in every aspect of marriage, Christian fathers were opposed to the insti.tution.  Origen declared, "Matrimony is impure and unholy, a means of se.xual passion." St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was "to cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage".(1)  St. Ambrose said marriage was a crime against god, because it changed the state of virginity that God gave every man and woman at birth.(2)

    St. Augustine flatly stated that marriage is a sin and St. Paul damned marriage with faint praise, remarking that to marry was only better than to burn( 1 cor. 7:9).

    Saturninus said God made only two kinds of people, good men and evil women.  Marriage perpetuated the deviltry of women, who dominated men through the magic of se.x(8).  Centuries later, St. Bernard still proclaimed that it was easier of a man to bring back the dead to life than to live with a woman without endangering ones soul.(9)

    Priests abandoned the churches' rule of celibacy and began to take wives during the 5th and 6th centuries.  This continued to the 11th century, when papal decretals commanded married clergymen to turn their wives out  of their homes and sell their children as slaves. (5)

    The church displayed remarkable reluctance to deal with the mater of marriage at all.  During the Middle Ages there was no ecclesiastical definition of a valid marriage nor of any contract to validate one. Churchmen seemed to have no ideas at all on the subject(6)

    The earliest form of Christian marriage was a simple blessing of the newly wedded, "in facie ecclesiae" –outside the churches closed doors– to keep the pollution of lust out of God's house.  This blessing was a technical violation of canon law, but it became popular and gradually won status.(7).

    There was no sacrament of marriage until the 16th century (3). Catholic scholars say the wedding ceremony was "imposed on" a reluctant church, and "nothing is more remarkable that the tardiness with which liturgical forms for the marriage ceremony were evolved."  It is perhaps not remarkable to find that these liturgical forms were not evolved by the church at all, but borrowed from pagan common law (4).

    1-William Fielding, Customs of Courtship and Marriage, 82, 114
    2-Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol 3, 373
    3-William Fielding, Customs of Courtship and Marriage, 233
    4-Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol 3, 248-249
    5-Jacobus de. Voragine, The Golden Legend 90-91
    6-Ronald Pearsall, The Worm in the Bud , 162-63
    7-Encyclopedia Britannica, "Marriage"
    8-Vern Bullough,The Subordinate se.x, 103, 112
    9-Joseph Cambell, Myths to Live By, 95

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

      Your post is so full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings that it hurts my eyes.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • James PDX

      Excellent points which will be ignored by radical Christians because they involve too many facts.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • ArthurP


      You're luck then that the facts did not make it past your eyes and into your brain. Your head might have exploded.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • James PDX

      What blahblah means is that he doesn't like facts. They hurt his wee little head. He would rather just have God tell him what to do and then ignore all of the parts he doesn't like.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      ArthurP, this is the 21st century. Join us. What may have happened a century ago shouldn't define us today. Times change, people change. I guess we should have slavery, that was a long time ago also.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • ArthurP

      @Ken Margo

      Cannot do that, these Holier than thou Puritans need to be reminded that 'Christian Marriage' is not 2000 years old but only a few hundred and that marriage was originally frowned on and not even recognized by the Christian Church.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  14. save the world and slap some sense into a christard today

    Just boycott that crap. After giving up fast food a long time ago, I find it very unappealing on the rare occasion that I might have any.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  15. ArthurP

    Tell that to the kids in school who are getting their science education, in public schools no less, crippled by religious views.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  16. dcr999

    There are other christian based companies out there who can operate on their principles without feeling the need to come out and say something about it. When was the last time the owner/president of Tyson chicken came out publicly and said that he is against gay marriage? And why is it only gay marriage they seem to be against? Why not say you against divorce? That is a forbidden in the bible!

    July 31, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Ntrain2k

      He said it because he was asked in an interview. He could have simply said "no comment", but that would have still been taken pretty much the same by the drama queens and the liberal media.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Scratched Glass Repair and Glass Resurfacing

      The Bible discourages divorce but nowhere does it forbid it. God makes the allowance for divorce only on the grounds of marital infidelity but still the Bible states that, God HATES a divorcing. But you bring up a valid point. Why isn't anyone making a fuss about the fact that most marriages end in divorce today? Religion, or at least Christianity today has become "a la carte", in that people pick and choose what they want and what they don't want. Honestly, the Bible is a guide for us to try to measure up to and a way to try and live our lives, a road map to a happy life. Yet very few people even know the first 5 books of the Bible, let alone what it says.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  17. googleman

    Go ChickfilA – You will have my support!!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • chris hogan

      You and the small minority of Americans who still insist on hating God's gay children.

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

      I try to love all god's children; just because I don't agree with their lifestyle, doesn't mean I don't love them.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Larry89

      If you love them, then why won't you let them have the same rights as you have?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • James PDX

      If you truly love them, you will allow them to exercise the freewill that God gave them instead of trying to usurp God's will by denying them full use of God's greatest gift.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • oy

      Endorsing a restaurant that uses its funds (read: your money!) to prevent these people you supposedly "love" from having equal rights....means you're all talk.
      Btw it's not a "lifestyle" any more than being straight is.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      You'll end up eating there all alone thinking like that.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  18. Eric

    I wonder what christians would do if Burger King came out and said they believe christianity is evil and should be outlawed. Then donated money to converting christians to athiest. Wonder what they would do then. I remember christians protesting Harry Potter lol =)

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

      you rock eric!

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

      It fine for anyone to protest anything they want to. That's our right in this country. It's not fine or legal for the government to not allow someone to do business because of their religous beliefs.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • James PDX

      Hey now, don't try putting the shoe on the other foot. Christians don't wear gay shoes – which is why they never look fabulous!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Larry89

      Dogma, the last temptation of christ, Chronicles of Narnia to name a few more, and before seeing anything.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Boing

      In the early 1990's there were some evangelicals that were calling for a boycott of Burger King because their slogan at the time was 'Sometimes you gotta bend the rules.' This was deemed a bad influence on the young. Also about that time they were calling for a boycott of Proctor and Gamble because their symbol with the moon was a sign of devil worship.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  19. James PDX

    No need to redefine marriage, Mr. Mohler. Marriage is between:
    1. A man, his 700 wives and his 300 concubines. (Kings)
    2. A man, his wife, and his dead brother's wife.(Genesis)
    3. A woman and her rapist. (Leviticus)
    4. A man, his wife, their sons and their son's wives in incest to repopulate the world. (Genesis)

    Wait, does Christianity or even Judaism still require a man to marry his dead brother's wife if he has no male heir or force a r@pe victim to marry her rapist? Didn't God make very detailed rules against incest after the flood? And does US law allow bigamy anymore? No? Well, then marriage has already been redefined many times and, thus, you have no point.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • James PDX

      Oops, # 3 actually appears in Deuteronomy. Leviticus came to mind because it's my favorite where it describes God as an odd being living behind a curtain in a tent demanding ritual sacrifices all day because he loves wasting good food and enjoys nothing more than the smell of scorched flesh.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  20. California

    Democrats Christian bashing again. This is all nothing new to anyone. Democrats will never admit it but they want Christianity to disappear from the face of this planet. Anarchy is their way.

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

      We dont want chrisitanity to dissappear, we just want you to stop forcing your christian law on others

      July 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • James PDX

      I'm not a Democrat, but I am a liberal. I don't want Christianity to disappear. I just want Christians in America to act like Americans by understanding this is a secular country and to stop using their religion to oppress others and try to deny them their equal civil and secular rights. Your religion is for you. Jesus even said it was a private matter between you and God. Keep it that way.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • A Democrat

      Who's not admitting it?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Where do you get this nonsense from? You're scared that the public is catching up with the crooked christian crappy B.S. The only reason Islam is still alive in the middle east is because they'll chop your head off if you don't follow it. Trust me, Islam is the next religion going down the toilet, followed by Judaism.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • oy

      I'd personally like it if ALL religion disappeared off the earth, but that's not the point.
      The point is, CFA supports discrimination. What's it to you if people don't want to fund that?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:32 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.