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.

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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. James

    This kind of religious persecution was promised by our Lord Jesus Christ in the end of days. But it wont stop here, this is just the very tip of the ice burg. He promised the start of the end of times was all the natural disasters, then we christians would be persecuted.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Stop brainwashing your children with religious nonsense and the Christians will disappear for sure.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • James PDX

      He also told you to keep your religion between you and God. But you only listen to the parts you want to, just like most Christians do.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      James, who is being persecuted? How is it persecution for a group of people to engage the government for EQUAL rights to marry whom they will instead of only who another group tell them they can marry?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • niknak

      I sincerely hope you get the sh _it persecuted out of you.
      But in the meantime, go back to your hill with your other fundies and howl at the moon and leave the rest of us to make this country a better place thru science and learning.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • MawcDrums

      Gotta love those "ice burgs." If you're going to try to make an educated comment on a news delivery website defending an obviously unpopular point you should make sure you know what you're talking about first.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Craig

      What a bunch of crap! What you should really be worrying about is the prediction that in the "end times" there will be many false profits preaching hatred and intolerance in the name of Lord Jesus Christ! That's happening every day in this country – and the FOC is one of the major ones!! Jesus said to LOVE everyone, friend, father, mother, enemy, leper, sinner, EVERYONE! And further to take them into your home and care for and feed them if they are in need. To support them and help them when they need it regardless of whether they ever change any behavior you may consider to be "sinful". Come on... if you are going to claim to be a Christian, at least try to follow His teachings!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • maria

      nik nak –

      and you guys say the Christians are the haters?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  2. A Little Common Sense

    Who thinks we wouldn't be seeing the same outrage about "rights violations" from these people if the concern was cities forcing their residents to go to church once a week.

    He doesn't care about rights, he's only concerned with progressing his oppressive & intolerant agenda. Don't disguise
    it as being concerned about rights. If he cared about peoples' rights, he wouldn't support such an oppressive 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 9:34 pm |
  3. Hugh Hefner

    Both relions and gays should be under threat!

    July 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • James PDX

      So what do you have against gays?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Craig

      I think his mother was a lesbian and kicked him out of the house when he wouldn't get a job. So he went to the local church for help and they turned him away when he said their communion wafers tasted like Chic-Fil-A......

      July 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  4. Mike Williams

    Religious freedom is not under threat. Religious hatred and political activity is under threat. Religious non-tax status is under threat because of that.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • phelonius

      Christianity, the new third party candidate.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  5. Lauri

    While I disagree with the officials saying that Chick-Fil-A does not belong in their cities, I don't think I'll be rushing out to get a sandwich there either.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Craig

      I think it's perfectly for the politicians to say they don't think Chic-fil-a belongs in their cities – but I don't think it's OK for them to use any governmental means to keep them away. If there IS a market for their product locally then they should be allowed to service that market – even if it's just a bunch of artery-clogged bigots.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  6. James PDX

    So this guy with an opinion serves on the board of directors for an organization which fights to deny gays equal civil rights? Yeah, I think we've just found a new level of bias never before seen by mankind.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  7. harbharb

    This guy isn't doing this at his business. And we do have the right not to patronize his business. But has anyone ever thought about how this boycott might affect the people who work there, most of whom likely are poor minorities with few other job prospects. After a short boycott, we should find other ways to show this business owner that he's becoming out of step with the modern world. Two wrongs don't make a right. I don't want to hurt people (employees) who had nothing to do with this. Cathy is rich–embarrassment is the best course of action for the long term.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • James PDX

      Chik-fil-a is a franchised company. If franchises take a hit because of boycotts caused by the CEO, then perhaps franchise owners will stand up to him too and tell him to stop investing chikin money in anti-gay organizations. I get your point, but this guy isn't going to worry about social embarassment because he's rich and the people he surrounds himself with either have the same ideas or will pretend they do. He's too insulated and comfortable to be harmed by mere words.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  8. ItSOnLyME

    What a bunch of hogwash. Religious liberty is not under threat. What's under threat is small-minded bigots. And more power to we the people who call the small-minded bigots out on their small-minded bigotry!

    Hate is not a family value.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Hate is too strong a word. I definitely only get a pukey feeling when it concerns the LGBTs.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  9. California

    Democrats against the 1st amendment and they'll use the government to punish those using their 1st amendment rights.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Jason

      While I do not condone the action of stifiling the 1st amendment I do find the hyprocy amusing. The religious fanatics try to stuff their beliefs down our throat at every turn. When someone or person's do not fall in line with their way of thinking they are very quick to react at getting injunctions and trying to ban them away. I hope that they will learn something from being on the receiving end of the lashing and remember do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Maybe if they were a little more tolerant of other's beliefs they would never have had this kind of backlash.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Craig

      Actually the Democrats are supporting and exercising their first amendment rights. They have a perfect right to rail against a bigot loudly and for as long as they want! If you don't like it, then you can exercise your right to speak out against them as well.... and it goes on... and on.... and on....

      July 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  10. California

    Democrats and tyranny, hand in hand.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • James PDX

      Like the kool-aid, do you?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  11. Mr. Noble

    Mr. Mohler,

    The critical piece of information you strategically failed to mention was that fact that not only does Chick-fil-A walk the walk but they talk the talk. Chick-fil-A has supported groups with hundreds of thousands of dollars to actively lobby to deny a group of Americans the ability to engage in an activity that the majority freely enjoys. The attack does not lie within the belief, it lies within their actions.

    We are guaraneed our 1st Amendment rights by the Bill of Rights to freedom of speech and in our current political climate, money equates to speech. Where our rights end however, is when our freedom begins to infringe upon the rights of others and this is where Chick-fil-A has faltered.

    Please Mr. Mohler, next time you decide to comment with your own take on an issue, send aside your own biases and approach a subject objectively and honestly.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • James PDX

      He can't. It's against his religion.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  12. G2

    It is NOT a freedom of religion issue when you give $2mil to political campaigns to try and effect laws being written in this country. The author conveniently leaves this fact out of his opinion piece.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • phelonius


      July 31, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  13. Hugh Hefner

    No one should tolerate stupidity, religious or gay.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Craig

      Or Hefner....

      July 31, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  14. Mark

    There is no greater advocate for the advancement of equal rights than organized religion itself. Time and time again, they decidedly display for all to see their own God's approval and support of prejudice and hate.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Very clever!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  15. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Great commentary on the issue.


    July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  16. phelonius

    Mr Mohler, i will agree with you that it would be unwise for politicians to start regulating businesses on the basis of the religious beliefs of their CEOs. however, politicians blustering for the popular vote is not a new practice. thus far, to my knowledge, no laws have been created that would prevent Chick-filled-Hate from opening a store anywhere they see fit. therefore your concern is premature. the more salient point that you fail to acknowledge is the increasing influence that religious organizations are exerting to influence our government. i have no problem with religious freedom, but please keep your religious views to yourself, and in that vein, i have no sympathy for a company that wears its fundamentalist views on its sleeve and contributes millions of dollars toward influencing our politicians and policy. religious freedom doesn't solely guarantee the right to practice Christianity.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  17. California

    When government officials use their positions to DICTATE what others should think and say tyranny prevails.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No government official had "DICTATED" anything, dipsh!t.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • California

      Moby Schtick – (YOU'RE APPROPRIATELY NAMED) When elected officials say they will stop someone from doing business in their town based exclusively on them using their 1st amendment rights that is in fact TYRANNY, RICHARD.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • James PDX

      California, 1st, saying isn't doing. 2nd, Mr. Cathy has used chikin money to fund anti-gay organizations who fight to deny gays equal civil rights. I suppose you approve of that kind of tyranny though.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  18. California

    Democrats showing their hatred for anyone with a difference of opinion.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Religion is not an opinion, it's pure stupidity.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • California

      Hugh Hefner – Your hatred and intolerance is not only pitiful but shameful. I know you're so proud of it.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You see, gays don't mind if heteros get married, and pro-gay marriage folks don't mind if heteros get married. So why should the hetero bigots get to keep the gays from getting married?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • James PDX

      California, the opinion for the gays doesn't deny the heteros any rights. The opinion of these "Christian" groups is that gays should be denied equal civil rights. How can you be so blind as to not see the difference? Only wilfully, no doubt.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • steven harnack

      I'll cop to it. I hate peop[le who think that it's their right try to make the government a party to their own prejudices by denying rights to certain other people and I really hate them when they claim that some mythical being made them do it. Keep your religion out of my government and we will never come into conflict because I will never be in your arena.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • California

      James PDX – Someone using their 1st amendment right shouldn't be punished by elected officials as is what's happening here (Chicago, Boston, SF) If you don't like it don't eat there but if this is what democrats truly want then so be it.

      Let the civil war begin.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  19. J

    Tyrannical intolerance? Last time I checked, one person deciding for themself not to eat a sandwich is NOT the same thing as one person, deciding for a large group of others that they cannot marry the person they love.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Well, the pedophiles love children. And they can't do as they please either.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • James PDX

      So Hugh decided to try the old stategy of comparing two consenting adults to pedophiles. Again, I will point out that the majority of pedophiles are hetero males, many also priests.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • James PDX

      Wait, you've been supporting the gays, so your post doesn't make sense to me. Oh, well. Maybe you're schizo. 🙂

      July 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  20. Hugh Hefner

    News flash: Religion is under attack. Duh!

    And it's about time!

    July 31, 2012 at 9:24 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.