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. Mjw

    Human liberty is under threat by religious fanatics. Consider the conservative Christians who want to hang onto their guns, reject health care for the poor or who can't afford insurance and will probably vote for a member of a cult (their words for a Mormon.). This is due to the fact they can't possibly vote for a Christian who happens to be of mixed race. So, conservative Christians believe in owning objects designed for killing, not caring for the less fortunate and are closeted racists. With this, why would they claim to worship Jesus? Since their actions are more in line with Satan.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  2. hozo1

    it's not about religious freedom ... it's about Mr. Cathy discriminating against Gays ... it's about hate ... don't you get it ... what are they teaching in your church?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Not hate, nausea.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • California

      That is what it's about but people like you NEED it to be about whatever it is you're screaming about today.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      Just because someone doesn't believe that same s– marriage should be legal, it doesn't mean that they hate gays, lesbians or anyone else. I believe that all people should have equal rights and they should be free to live as they choose. I do not however believe that marriage is one of those rights.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • manbearpig

      MarylandBill –
      Explain how marriage is not a right.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  3. Nick

    Mr Moehler,

    What surprises me about your thoughts is that your philosophy of religious freedom stops at freedom for Christians. If two adults want to get married who are you to have an opinion about it on whatever grounds?


    July 31, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      If two adult scatophiles want to get married, is there anything wrong with that?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  4. Bill C

    Once again the religious types just don't get it!! The ceo of the chicken joint has every right to his views, and complete liberty to express them any way he wants to. But.... I have the right to disagree with his views and the liberty to not buy from him. I do not want him pushing his religious views on me in any way, nor do I want to fund his use of corporate profits to push his religious adgenda

    July 31, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Just go get your chicken and shut up!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • odessacomputerguy

      Once again, you liberal types show your true colors and your ignorance. How is opening a chicken restaurant "forcing their religious views" on you? If you don't want to by a chicken sandwich because you disagree with the views of the owner of the chicken restaurant, GO BUY A F@#KING HAMBURGER, you moron. Tolerance used to be the buzzword for liberals, but you idiots can't hide behind that lie anymore. You've been exposed as a bunch of lying hypocrites buy your own dumba$$ leaders. What a joke you people are.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  5. California

    Democrats are against the 1st amendment and everyone knows they're against the 2nd also. I wouldn't be surprised if they're against the whole Bill of Rights.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  6. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Great video for this.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Brian

      We get it. You made a crappy YouTube video. Stop spamming the comments with it.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Bubba


      July 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  7. mcdunn85

    Since the politicians mentioned here reacted with hasty words, they called more attention to Cathy's statements and made this more likely to be viewed as an issue of religious freedom. Furthermore, a call to have a "Chick-Fil-A" support day highlighted the already contraversial statements. A few thoughts:
    1. If everyone took the time to research the views of all company leaders and boycotted accordingly, we may find ourselves with substantialy fewer purchased products. I think the criteria for whether or not to support Chick-Fil-A is simple. Do you like chicken? This of course works both ways and so conservatives need to keep this in mind when rallying against the latest "anti-whatever".
    2. Politicians making statements which are potentially against the law actually does warrant an article like this. Is the sky falling? No. However, when politicians have to be reminded that the fulfillment of their angry rants is actually not legal, then perhaps there are warning signs of religious liberties being threatened.
    3. Obviously, there are extreme differences of opinion regarding marriage equality. An unbiased assessment demands that each side have the right to their opinion without being called "idiots", "brain-washed", "religious fanatics", or "bigots". Tolerance of diverse views is inclusive of views you don't agree with, even for religious reasons.
    4. I agree with the framework of the article because my own convictions are very similar to the author's. However, I would recommend that everyone take a deep breath, count to ten and stop pretending that their blog comment will decisively end the controversy through using "name-calling".

    July 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • limbiclogic

      "I think the criteria for whether or not to support Chick-Fil-A is simple. Do you like chicken?" This kind of thinking which ignores the costs and consequences of how something is obtained are part of the evil in our contemporary world. Just because the end result feels good (yummy food) doesn't mean how it was made is acceptable – what about inhumane animal farms, or slave labor, or pollution, or whether the proceeds of your patronage go to support (insert terrorism or drugs etc here), so on and so forth. The fact is that the responsible way to view 'criteria' as you mention is to imagine the entire process as if you were doing it yourself and decide whether or not you find the sum total acceptable or not. I'm not saying anything about Chick-fil-a here, just your argument.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • mcdunn85

      limbiclogic... I think you make a valid point. It would be difficult to include a systematic criteria in a post like this and my intention was specifically limited to the confines of this particular controversy. I appreciate your logic and comment.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  8. Tex71

    Religious liberty does NOT mean that you have the liberty to force everyone else to live by your own religious beliefs whether they like it or not. Unfortunately, this country has a long and unhappy history of religious leaders who hold to that definition, from the Puritans in Salem, MA right up to the good Rev. Albert Mohler.
    Banning intolerance is not intolerant. It is good sense and common courtesy. Chick-Fil-A's job is to serve chicken, not trumpet Bronze-Age social rules as if they knew the will of God.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • DJL

      Well said, Tex!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  9. nilla

    I find it interesting how Christians fight so hard for religious liberty when their own handbook specifically lays out its forbiddance of religious freedom in one of it's "commandments". So basically, we expect our American leaders, whom we hold with a degree of contempt, to be less oppressive than our heavenly leader, whom we worship and dedicate our lives to.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  10. oneSTARman

    FREEDOM is what America claims to be about. FREE WILL is what Humans were given by GOD. We make choices about how we live our lives and what Things and Ideas and People we VALUE. I VALUE Human Dignity and Equality even MORE than I value FAST FOOD. I am Glad that some Community Leaders are telling Businesses that in THIS Community We VALUE People more than MONEY.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  11. LinCA

    Tomorrow, I will go to the nearest Chick-fil-A, buy the cheapest item on their menu and, occupy a booth or table for 4, until they ask me to leave.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  12. California

    Push to open up all the Chick-fil-A's you can in Boston and all these DICTATORSHIP cities.

    Sue them over n over again. Bankrupt these liberal.chit.hole cities.

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

      There's only so much chicken one can eat.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      You do realize, don't you, that the laws the cities are going to use against Chic-fil-A are the exact same ones that those cities use to zone out adult film shops? Have fun having a new naughty film store next to every new Chic-fil-A!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Noel

      Their sales are UP.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • James PDX

      Go ahead. Saturate the market and lose a lot of money. These blustering buffoons known as mayors can't actually stop chikin franchises. But your brilliant idea might just bankrupt them.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • manbearpig

      You obviously haven't seen some of the fatties in the "Bible Belt" lately...

      July 31, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  13. swd

    I'm lost. When did the right to discriminate become a matter of religious freedom?

    This article is a joke. A conservative who is against gay rights because he is an odd ball conservative is using his religion to justify his political belief.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  14. Wootings

    The greatest shame isn't that people of one religion demonstrate hatred and intolerance towards members of other religions or social groups...the greatest shame the human race bears is that we are both stupid and ignorant enough to continue to tolerate the existence of religion at all.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner

      Agreed. As well as the GLBT. They can go too.

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

    The pedophiles love children. And they can't do as they please either. Look at Sundusky – see what he got for his "love"!

    July 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • 13directors

      You are so off topic.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Hugh Hefner


      July 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • California

      Hugh Hefner – You're WAY off topic.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  16. Edgar

    People can discriminate in your own house but business need to be out of any type of discrimination, you can not use your business to focus hate even if you call that hate your believes, liberty is not intended to be use to go against any group of people, if we tolerate chick fil a to openly target gays .... Next day craker barrel will start only white policy. Hate in your own house, behave in public.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • MarciaBelle

      Chick Fil A is NOT discriminating. They simply stated their position/stand on the issue.
      I'm sick and tired opf christians having to apologise and be politically correct. No one else has to do it. If Chick Fil A's pressident had been muslim or budhist and stated the exact same thing, the drama we have now would never have happened. Whi is it that only christians have to be careful what we say in case we offend others??? We have opinions too and Chick Fil A is right. The christian family uint started and is clearly defined in the Bible. That's a fact – not conjecture. Not opinion. Fact!
      So for those of you who are so insecure in yourselves, your beliefes and religoious affilitiaons as to be threatened by someopne who clearly knows and articulates their position – shame on you. Religious freedom includes the right of christians to state their opinions without fear or intimidation.,

      July 31, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  17. keyser

    What is under threat is not religious liberty but religion attacking the liberty of others.

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

      Succint. I like it.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Eli

      Exactly. There is no irony in open-minded, inclusive people being closed-minded and exclusionary to the people who would violate that spirit. It's completely logical. To be accommodating to chik-fil-a means rolling over and letting them get away with intolerance. Rev. Mohler should be ashamed of how he spun that. It's also convenient that he managed to leave out chik-fil-a's financial contributions to oppressing gay people's right to marry, instead framing it as if theirs is just an innocent, pure little religious belief that ends at their own door.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  18. Duane st.pete Florida

    its really amazing how untolerant liberals have become....progressive? it's all good until does not agree or has a different view.....then you all want to burn books. the democrats have lost the independent vote............

    July 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • James PDX

      HAHAHA! Good laugh. Thanks.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • California

      You're so correct. It's a shame actually. I like a good debate but they only have their all inclusive argument these days screaming racist just like crying wolf.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Eli

      I know! Why can't those liberals learn a lesson from MLK? You know, the way he just said, "Hey, I'm cool w/ segregation. I wouldn't want the people oppressing me to think I was intolerant of them."

      July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • A Little Common Sense

      As being truly "religious" becomes more and more of a minority, religions are starting to suffer, to a much lesser extent, the discrimination that they have exhibited and encouraged against so many groups over the centuries. Payback is a *%#$@.

      The only difference is, most of those minority groups being discriminated against simply wanted fair and equal treatment, religious groups have the audacity to think that even though their influence and role is diminishing, they should still be making all the rules and we should all be living by them

      July 31, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  19. NOME

    What? My religious liberty is not under threat. What a ridiculous story to imply this is happening to everyone in this country. First, I can care less what others think of my Christianity if you do not like it. I am not a doormat for anyone to walk over. Second, if anyone disagrees with me, put the gloves on and we'll fight it out. I am not some old-school passive individual who is going to back down just because someone has a bigger mouth to tell me that I cannot pray in public and I'll do so at my whim. Been in martial arts for 26+ years so if any smart mouthed atheists wants to push their agenda in my face, feel free to try.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  20. California

    I hope these mayors in these cities refuse them to open up their stores in their cities.

    The lawsuits will be HUGE.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:35 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.