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. TheLostSurveyor

    What Christian see as persecution is nothing of the sort. It's a backlash from folks who are tired of them attempting to force their beliefs on those who do not wish follow them. Not to mention their repeated attempts and even successes in having biblical belief codified into the law of the land. If they would mind their own business and not constantly try to change the way non-believers live their lives. They would find that people would actually be quite tolerant of their beliefs. Right now they are simply reaping what they have sewn.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • coca-kola

      Have you guys been trying to push your beliefs onto everyone else? how hypocritical for you to make that statement? Only your desire to push marriage (gay), has failed everywhere it went for vote. Remember?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @coca: No, we are not comparing the religious right's "codifying their religion into government" with the pursuit of "gay equality". Your religion forced the words "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950's. THAT is codifying YOUR religious beliefs before an ENTIRE NATION, regardless of how anyone else felt about it. By the 1970's, everyone thought that the words in question had ALWAYS been there, so when it was questioned in court, the general opinion was, "How can we take the phrase out when George Washington himself said the pledge that way?" That's how stupid generations can become when they don't think too clearly. Gay Rights is the correct movement of our nation, where ALL men are created equal,...and deserve life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Get off our backs.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  2. Reality99

    Gays trying to deny the 1st amendment rights of private citizens are just demonstrating their "tolerance".

    July 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • James PDX

      I haven't heard anyone saying Mr. Cathy can't think and say what he wants. However, Mr. Cathy has spent a load of chikin bucks to fund anti-gay groups trying to oppress gays and deny them equal civil rights.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Kosher Kow

      those gosh darn blacks did it back in the 50's and 60's.

      how dare a black woman not give up her seat! the nerve of some people!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • douglas friedmutter

      lol gays cannot deny anybody's 1st amendment rights. unless they work for the government. The first amendment only protects you from the GOVERNMENT taking away you right to speech. Private citizens can do whatever they want.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  3. Pushing Agendas

    Why is it that everyone else can push THEIR agenda, but the religious cannot?

    Fools. Don't you understand? YOUR atheism supports shoving agendas down other people's throats. It's called SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.

    According to your own line of reasoning, it is every person for themselves.

    NOW, you want to argue differently? That people CANNOT go along with the very "nature" evolution has given them because it violates your precious agenda?

    Hello? Anyone one? It's evolution. There isn't ANY morals or values you fools. You, me, we are all stardust. Each person, according to evolution is allowed and expected to survive how ever they can.

    If you were stay TRUE to YOUR agenda, you would begin eliminating physically all of those who hinder your way of living.

    If people would only think their worldview through just a little more, they'd see how stupid it is.

    Feel free to bash me-but that's the truth. Care to have an intelligent conversation? meatatcnn at gmail com

    I've yet to have someone with the courage do it.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • jungleboo

      coo coo : means stay away.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Ethan

      "Why is it that everyone else can push THEIR agenda, but the religious cannot?"

      Isn't that EXACTLY what you are doing with your comment on here? GIVE ME A BREAK.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Who me?

      Don't quite follow you Bud..

      July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  4. Austin

    Wait, did someone say they couldn't discriminate against gays? They're a private business, they can do whatever PR stunt they want, even if its one that will run their business to the ground.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  5. kenny

    can a country with freedom of religion survive if the rule goes... god then country... or do we all need to step back and think twice and decide it should be country then god??? there a lot of different gods that we CLAIM to tolerate in the spirit of freedom of religion, all with slightly to vastly differeing rules believers are supposed to follow... so what's it gonna be??? patriots or believers??? cause if you believe in freedom you can't fault a muzzy from following his faith when you do the same with yours... can you??? or do we make everyone follow the countries rules before their religions... i know what xtians want... everyone to believe wha they do so they don't give a RIP about freedom of religion... so why should any of us...

    July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • coca-kola

      so what then, should we war about our opinions? Be careful your only 2% of the population. And every where where the vote has been put up you guys have lost. Even in nasty liberal San Fran containing California you guys LOST. What up!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @ coca: In case you have not heard, voting on civil rights is not the American system, and will not stand when it gets to the Supreme Court. The tyranny of the majority shall not effect laws abridging the rights of the minority. What grade did you say you were in?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  6. Maty

    They don't have this conversation in the Netherlands.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • coca-kola

      go to the netherlands.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @coca : coo coo

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

    Culture dictates the defenition of a word which then goes into a dictionary, NOT the bible.

    Did the bible dictate the phrase "go and Google it"? Google is in the dictionary.... who put it there? CULTURE.

    Culture has changed the definition of the word marriage. You bible thumpers are just going to need to adapt and move on.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • jungleboo

      I like reading your posts. They make me think.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  8. Christina

    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:10-12

    July 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Daniel

      That was a lot more relavent when Jesus only had 12 followers.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Christina, your post is the result of your having been brainwashed at an early age.You have been taught:
      that "sad" = "happy",
      that "suffering" = "love",
      that "beauty (aka this life)" = "ugliness",
      that "death" = "living on streets paved with gold"

      I am sorry for you and those you help to brainwash.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  9. One one

    So These big city mayors are saying, "Chick-fil-a deserves to be punished for having the wrong belief".

    That's just as fvcked up as Christians saying atheists deserve to burn in hell for having the wrong belief.

    This is about politics, not religious belief. IMO, the left has gone too far on this one. If they don't like
    CFL's views, don't buy their sandwiches. But to ban them from doing business in a city because of what they believe sounds a little disturbing.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Daniel

      I'm completely in opposition with CFA's views but I agree they should not be banned by city governments. If they aren't wanted in the communities that should be left to the citizens to decide.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Who me?

      Agreed..Let them eat chicken...better yet ,let them eat chicken together..Have these christian folks even met any gay folks.I've met both types many times and I can tell you ,most are great folks.If the bible folks could get past their bigotry they would probably get along fine with the LGBT folks.Too many folks,but you get the point.I hope...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  10. Shawn

    This brings up a point. So, can a grocery store chain refuse to sell food to gay people? Can a pharmacy refuse to sell to gay people? Can a doctor refuse care to gay people? Can a cop refuse to protect gay people? Can a fireman refuse to put out a fire at a gay person's home? Should the business community or a public service be allowed to completely shun those they don't agree with. I mean we deny gay people the right to marry. So by that logic local authorities can refuse to install water and gas in the houses of gay people. That's the logic behind supporting Chic-filet

    July 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Shecky

      No, Shawn, you moron. Chic-Fil-A has NOT refused to serve ANYONE. Chic-Fil-A is simply exercising its First Amendment right to free speech. I thought you liberals claim to be TOLERANT. Why is it then, when someone has a point of view DIFFERENT from the liberal point of view, the liberals suddenlyl LOSE their tolerance? Splain that to me, Lucy.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  11. Mike

    I'm just tired of all these religious people pushing their agenda. They can't agree which religion is right, they all hate each other and they want to stamp out individual rights that don't agree with their views.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Osama

      I am tired of people complaining about being tired about religion.... nobody is forcing anything on you, neither is this chicken manager... just because he feels that marriage is between a man and a woman, that means he is forcing his will on you???

      July 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  12. LMC

    I think it's fine for the owners of Chick-fil-A to speak their mind. It's also fine for me not to eat at their restaurants if I don't agree with them! Knowing their beliefs, I would wonder what their hiring practices are though.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  13. Mark

    Religious liberty means you can worship whatever infantile desert garbage you want in YOUR miserable little life. It does not extend to sticking your nose into MY relationship and trying to meddle with MY legal marriage to another consenting adult.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Shecky

      HA! HA! How in the world is Chic-Fil-A affecting YOUR "marriage"? Pretty pathetic "marriage" you must have if a fast food chicken joint can eff it up, LOL!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  14. GAW

    This opinion piece by Mohler is so indicative of the paranoia that often saturates so much of Evangelical Christianity. When something doesn't go their way they rally the troops with the fear that their religious freedoms will be taken away and that the America will transform into the Fourth Reich.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  15. Maty

    Freedom is uncomfortable and can test the limits of one's patience. For representatives of one of the largest idealogical groups in the US to claim 'intolerance' is disingenuous at best.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  16. RCC

    All liberties are at risk under our current government. Put political and religious views aside for a moment and think about the elected that are running this country. Do you really think any of them are concerned about freedom and equaliy for all? If you do, you are naive

    July 31, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • RCC - you are scary

      RCC, Really our current government, and then you want to put political bias aside? Sorry, you lost any chance at having anyone take you seriously when you provide such hypocritical double standards before you even get to your second sentence.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • jungleboo

      coo coo

      July 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  17. indogwetrust

    Its funny. It seems like some highly religious people think that terrorist anarchist nazis are supporting gay rights.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  18. JakeAZ

    i was gonna read this until i saw the words "R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary"

    here's the problem: your religious "liberty" is about suppressing the liberty of others.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Thank you, sir!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  19. Austin

    I guess they forgot to mention that many Christian groups are boycotting and threatening many companies that support gay rights... Main example being Oreo with their recent support of gay rights.

    It's the same on both sides, Anti-Religious groups boycott companies and so do the religious groups. Yet this article is one sided.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • huhb

      What's not the same is you don't hear calls for Christians to be rounded up behind fences and left to die.
      What's not the same is you don't hear anyone calling for Christians to be denied equal treatment under the law.
      What's not the same is you don't hear calls for childrens' organizations to ban Christians.
      What's not the same is no one ever suggested Christians should only serve in the military if they keep their Christianity a secret.
      What's not the same is it was never illegal to be a Christian in the US.

      Is it REALLY the same on both sides?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Siri S

      Also, please know that many Christians are in favor or in positive conversation about gay rights. Being Christian is not synonymous with being conservative.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Ransom

      I'm pretty sure the not so logical atheists do the same to some religious companies.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • coca-kola

      Your wrong. There is a big difference between not buying a product and denying someone a license to open a business. Big time wrong. Christians can choose to not buy oreo cookies and gays can choose not to eat at chick-fil-a, thats fine. It would be wrong for christians to deny business to people because they have a differing view. You gays are the intollerant naz1s

      July 31, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Daniel

      if the jews didn't want to eat at Hitler's restaurant would you call them intolerant?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  20. J Gaston

    Religious freedom does not mean that you get to shove your ideals on people who don't see things your way! I'm so sick of that argument! Cathy gives money to organizations whos sole purpose is to deny gays and lesbians the same rights that he enjoys. That is not religious freedom! It's bigotry and hatred! When people take your bibles at gun point, chain up church doors, and threaten you with death when you pray in your own home, THEN you can whine about your religious freedoms being taken away. Until then, you live your life your way and let everyone else live their own. You'll be surprised how quickly that the world doesn't burst into flames.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • RCC

      You have a valid point on donating money to casues to oppose gay marriage and I know that makes a lot of people angry. However, every group in the US spends money to push agendas we don't agree with and if the elected government wasnt so shady, we wouldnt have to worry abbout lobyist money. The main prob in this country isnt LGBTs or religious – its our elected officials

      July 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Robert Byrd

      It's funny how ignorant some people are. Try watching the LOGO channel and see if it doesn't make you throw up!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
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