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.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.”

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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. Double Independent

    The author is both wise and accurate to specify that the unilateral pronunciations by certain elected officials against anti-gay organizations who might otherwise apply to conduct business in their districts/cities/states is a troubling sign (in addition to the fact that there is not a legal support of this).

    That being said, how in the world can any legitimate news organization allow an article to be published by their distribution apparatus by an author with such a stunning list of bias disclosures? There's no problem with the message, but let's find a different messenger, CNN.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • JG

      At least he listed his disclosures. ALL of our opinions come from bias. So what does it matter what his affiliations were? In fact, you would have never known unless he openly said so, which to me is more respectful than how most of you all operate...making comments behind closed doors. The article was very on point. Because he made a SIMPLE point. If you want to outlaw them, then you might as well outlaw all religious organizations in your city for having the same exact stance. And if you aren't willing to do that, because, well, you can't, then stand down and let people make decisions on if they want to eat there. That is how this Country is supposed to work.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      You admit there is no problem with the message - but you want a new messenger.

      I think it is you who shows bias.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  2. TonyD

    I no more need to have the religious right shoving their dribble down my throat that some sub-par deep fried sandwich maker.
    Religious freedom is fine but it is not meant for one specific religion. This country was based on freedom of religion, all religions or the right to none at all. If you wish to cover up your bigotry in the name of religion so be it, it's your misguided decision to think God would hate anyone.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • What?

      you are the only one who used the word hate, hater. Try removing your feelings about this topic and consider the proposition that, in this case, liberals are the ignorant bullies and bigots.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  3. Padraig

    People get so bent out of shape when someone objects to how you think things should be run. But, you don't mind adding your wisdom and shoving your opinion out there. If you don't like what they said don't buy their product.

    So that is their belief and point of view which is a majority of the country outside of the majority who write who write comments on this site. What CNN should focus on is our inept leadership in the White House and Congress who cannot work together to solve our national and economic issues.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • JG

      Agreed! We are here arguing over chicken sandwich companies for having a religious based opinion...just typical of US...pun intended!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  4. soul68

    Oh give me a break. More of this nonsense about religious freedom under attack. These politicians are grandstanding first of all. There can be no prohibition of their business in any city. Banning CFA isn't going to happen.

    Of course this guy has to write an article claiming this false persecution, because that gets headlines, and it fills the coffers of their church.

    If people don't want to participate in the gay lifestyle, they are free not to. They are not free to infringe on other people's rights to live their lives the way they want. And if anyone wants to see arrogance at work, look at the original interview. Mr Cathy claims to know what God wants or doesn't want. That's the very definition of arrogance.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • What?

      the thing is this: even if you do not at all agree with the beliefs under which the restaurant chain is run, they have every right to promote those beliefs, and people crying fowl (bad pun), then too bad. Also, i'd like to point out that very few businesses have the nuts to put those beliefs out there, so even better that we know what ONE company is all about before we buy their sandwiches. Also, you mention the reasons behind this article. who knows for sure, but I have to say I'm glad it came out b/c I've been thinking it for a week whenever I ready all the nasty, hateful, bigotted comments on facebook about chick fil a. Oh the irony...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  5. t3chn0ph0b3

    The problem you are going to have going down this road is that the unconst1tutional zon1ng laws that would be used to keep Chic-fil-A out of cities are the exact same ones that these cities are using to keep out the n@ughty f1lm industry.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      So have fun having a particular type of film rental shop next to every new Chic-fil-A!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  6. Jesse Gonzalez

    PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID IN AUGUST 2008: "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as A CHRISTIAN, it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix". Why did he not get any heat for speaking his christian mind at that time?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Padraig

      Ol' BS'er contradicts himself on a weekly if not daily basis.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • James PDX

      Because we've made such a habit out of electing crooked liars that we're become desensitized to it.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Anthon

      Obama is not Christian, sorry.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • niknak

      Neither is Rmoney.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  7. Jay

    I am repelled by the silly argument that allowing gays to marry cheapens "traditional marriage" and I will find my chicken sandwiches somewhere else from now on. That is my right, and I will have it no matter which side of this issue I am on. Like me, however, Mr. Cathy has the right to say what he will about the subject, and Mr. Emanuel cannot and should not ban his restaurant chain from doing business in Chicago because of his religious beliefs and utterances.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • JG

      Great...do that. WHO THE F$%$ CARES? If you are gay, and not married, go get married to your partner and have McDonald's cater it. The more and more I see things like this happen, the more it makes sense to shun Media and actually having any type of opinion, because even if yours is not meant to have malice or hurt people, you will still offend SOMEONE! So...stop eating chicken sandwiches and stand for what the f@#$ you stand for already.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • What?

      that's not what the writer said. politicians can complain all they want about the restaurant, but they cannot use their position to break the law by preventing and even threatening to keep them out of their cities. there is a difference between rhetoric and legal.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  8. Ran

    I love how the gay issue is blowing up in their Christian faces. They are losing the battle and they know it. Christians are shinning proof that Christianity is not of a supreme being.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • James PDX

      They're just feeling the same way the South did when they realized they were going to have their slaves taken away and go down in history books as just plain awful people.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • StatesvilleChristian

      People have been saying the same thing for 2000 years and Christians are still here and the ones decrying them are dead.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Actually, the side in favor of gay marriage has lost every time it has been voted on by the people.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • James PDX

      Which form of Christianity are you referring to? In case you haven't noticed, there's like 50 versions now since they could never agree on their own religion and kept splitting off.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • elephantix

      Yep, it's blowing up alright. If by that you mean Chick-fil-a's income as a result of this event. Let people spend or not spend where they like, it will work itself out.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      StatesvilleChristian: "People have been saying the same thing for 2000 years and Christians are still here and the ones decrying them are dead."

      People have been saying there would be a cure for cancer for longer than that, and like the cancer of christer-cults, it is still here...and untold dead.

      Were you going to make a point?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  9. coca-kola

    one man,+ one woman = marriage one gay + gay = e-coli on their shafts

    July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Captain Stu

      Please, "coca-kola", clarify how your post is relevant to the opinions expressed by Mr. Mohler. I'm betting you can't.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • niknak

      Yeah, but I bet you don't mind watching two woman get it on Kola.
      In fact, I bet you watch that a bunch when wifee is away.
      And I bet you get off on seeing guys do it to.
      I always amazes me what good old xtians do behind closed doors.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  10. Boing

    It's not how much do you give, it's how much do you keep for yourself.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Corey

      That sounds like trickle down economics in a nutshell.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  11. t3chn0ph0b3

    Test post. I'm having trouble posting. Sorry if this goes through.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Test post. I'm having trouble posting. Sorry if this goes through."

      CNN uses WordPress blogs for their opinion pieces, and they use automated censoring that looks for words, or fragments of words, that are considered offensive. If your post doesn't show up, it most likely had a forbidden word in it.

      On the Belief Blog, repeat posts, even those that were previously censored and not displayed, will show a message stating that you posted it before.

      The following words or word fragments will get your post censored (list is incomplete):
            arse             as in Arsenal
            cock           as in cockatiel
            coon           as in cocoon
            cum             as in circumstance
            homo         as in homosexual
            poo           as in spooked
            rape         as in grape
            sex           as in homosexual
            spic         as in despicable
            tit               as in constitution or title
            vag           as in vague
            wonderful us

      To circumvent the filters you can break up the words by putting an extra character in, like: consti.tution (breaking the oh so naughty "tit").

      July 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  12. 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? Vote in someone new every election cycle.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • bloby

      you're a m o r o n!! like they weren't under Bush??!!??, he was the worst

      July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • RCC

      @blob – who's the mo ron? I said the governemnt not an administration. It's benn this way for decades. Get educated on our system punk – you are referring to an adminisrtation. These juveniles in CNN forums should have to take a test first.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      All liberties are at risk, until the cancer of the christ cult is exterminated.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  13. DitzyDave

    On behalf of the Chicken Liberation Army I decree a fatwah on the dumb schmucks who eat this kind of genetically modified, tortured and imprisoned fowl. A curse on all your houses!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  14. Aimee

    I support and protect free speech. This author makes it sound like the president of Chick-fil-a is coming under fire simply for his comments. While those play a part, it is the company's financial support of biggotry and hatred coupled with his comments that have forced me to boycott this company. I live in the south surrounded by Chick-fil-a restaurants and they will no longer receive my business.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • StatesvilleChristian

      Better off without you. I'll eat there twice.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • elephantix

      Look up how much they spend supporting marriage, and you'll see that's what they are all about.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      There is no evidence that the president of Chick-Fiil-A hates anyone.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      StatesvilleChristian: "Better off without you. I'll eat there twice."

      Excellent! Then you'll get heart disease twice as fast and die twice as soon. That is very considerate of you.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      Yes, his contribution of millions to support hate groups in this country is perfect proof that he is a hate-monger.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  15. Mildred Gillers

    And now the christ cultists are claiming they are being threatened by chicken sandwiches. Or rather, by people refusing to eat them!!!

    They've even dragged that senile old phart, Billy Graham, out to beat the drums!!!! If Robert Schuller and the Crystal "Cathedral" couldn't make jeezus into a successful marketing tool, how can this ancient biblethumper do it? Well, it will be fun to watch.

    God what a screwed up religion!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  16. rev fartwell

    all religions are made up BS

    July 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  17. travisgentry

    I like how when a religious ACTIVELY work to restrict or deny something to someone (which happens surprisingly often) and are then critiqued for it, they say their OWN liberties are being restricted. Because people complain that they're trying to restrict the liberties of others. Cry me a river.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Hypocrisy, thy name is religion.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • elephantix

      Manbearspig, thy religtion's name is moral relativism.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  18. Willie

    Freedom from religion is every bit as important as freedom of religion. Religious people just can't seem to understand this.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • James PDX

      I've actually had people tell me that the US was only founded on freedom OF religion and that I was making it up that many people came to America to escape religious persecution such that freedom FROM religion was also part of our foundation. You'd think with the handy internet people would want to look up facts rather than simply deny them as inconvenient to their beliefs.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • John

      If you don't think you're free from religion try living in Iran

      July 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  19. Corey

    What about freedom from religion? I don't ask religious people to live as I do. So why do they want others to live as they do? The GOP claims government overreach and states rights until they want to use the government to overreach others on their agenda ie. abortion, gay marriage etc.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      This organization is well-respected for exposing the christ cult lies: http://ffrf.org/

      July 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  20. WU

    Sorry bible thumpers. You pay a price when the stupidity of your beliefs compels you to promote ideas that violate the only moral guide you need.....the golden rule. If God is against gay people then, he 🙂 will in all of his wisdom stop straight people from having gay kids.

    There is a reason why a recent study found atrophy in the brains of people who hold dogmatic religious beliefs.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Mildred Gillers

      You're kidding? They found BRAINS in the people who hold dogmatic religious beliefs?

      How many?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48
About this blog

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.