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. Schlomo

    To all the intolerant bubonic butt-blasters currently hating on Chick-Fil-A, I have this to say:

    "Eat les cok"

    July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • McCave

      not helpful

      July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Hooligan

      wow... how long did it take you to come up with that little gem?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      A real winner. How old are you?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  2. t3chn0ph0b3

    The laws that Chic-fil-A seeks to defeat to break into the Chicago and Boston areas are the same ones that conservative Christians have been using for DECADES to z0ne out adu1t fi1m shops. Have fun having a brand, sp@nking new n@ughty fi1m store next to every new Chic-fil-A!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  3. ialsoagree

    Telling religions they can't restrict the rights of others is NOT stomping on "religious liberty." It's stomping on religious bigotry.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • JeremyH6

      What right was restricted?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Hamlet

      The right to disagree with the vocal minority.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  4. Steve

    Once again, the Christian Taliban defines "freedom of religion" as "the right to impose their religion on others".

    July 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • JeremyH6

      Who has this man's religion been imposed on?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Steve

      Everyone in any state or country with legal bans on gay marriage, abortion funding bans, Intelligent Design teaching requirements, blue laws, etc.

      Any other stupid questions?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • A Matter of Faith

      @Steve... you sure do give a chicken restaurant a great deal of credit. I believe it is the people as a whole who have hindered the forward movement of this agenda... One restaurant does not a majority make!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • elephantix

      @Steve The reason the Chick-fil-a owner votes for a law, or supports legislation, is because of his Christian views. However, voting or attempting to create legislation that supports your views is not "imposing religion" on people. It's the democratic process. Why he votes, or on what basis, is of no import- everyone gets a vote. Now if he tried to pass a law requiring everyone to attend church, or further showed up at your door and tried to force you into a car to go with him to church, or worse yet, refused to serve food to anyone that didn't agree to go to church- THAT is "imposing religion" on people.

      This is where you should say, "you know what, you're right. It could be a lot worse. I don't agree with this guy's view, but I'll defend his right to have them. We'll have our day in court, we'll take a head count, and we'll live with the results." And so far, the results are no gay marriage. But instead of taking the loss and learning from it, the vocal minority instead cries "foul!" or "hate!" when in reality, it's just a difference of opinion. Let other people have their own opinions and be okay with it. It's not hate. It's not imposing anything. Nobody's rights are being impeded because nowhere does it state that marriage is a right. It's a freedom, not a right.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:23 am |
  5. Brian

    I don't think it's a religious liberty problem. It's a discrimination issue. You can't make laws that hinder on religion, but you can make laws that prevent companies from discriminating.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • JeremyH6

      Discrimination? Where? Was someone denied service?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • McCave

      You can't claim discrimination when it's only a behavior. You're not stuck being gay. You can't change the color of your skin but you can change being gay.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  6. Wu

    These religious blogs are a waste of bandwidth. CNN should remove them all.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Hamlet

      Really so are the non-religious blogs. Get rid of them all.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • JeremyH6

      Get rid of the Opinion section as well. The NEWS is supposed to be unbiased...

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  7. Hooligan

    Denying a mosque to be built near ground zero is acceptable due to the fact Muslims destroyed the twin towers is acceptable but denying a Fast Food chain the right to build a franchise that openly speaks out against gays in a city where many of them reside is a threat to the freedom to practice ones faith?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • clakjak

      either you believe or you don't, just a statement

      July 31, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  8. Napoleon7

    What a crock, Nobody is threatening religious liberty. When people express hatred based on religious principles, then they can expect a backlash. It's fine for them to believe what they want, just don't expect the rest of us to subsidize their religion with tax exemptions.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • JeremyH6

      Yep, just like nobody is "expressing hatred"....

      July 31, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  9. Atheist

    Christianity is nothing but a school yard bully. A bully who cries discrimination and violation of his freedom of speech when the School Principal sends him to detention for taunting and punching the gay kid. Sorry, but the 1st Amendment doesn't apply.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Schlomo

      This country was founded on Christian principles. It seems you've been heavily indoctrinated by the Jewish media into hating Christianity, while in reality the real enemy is Judaism. So you're an atheist? All the wishful thinking in the world won't change the fact that God exists.....

      July 31, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Schlomo –
      Prove...well, anything you just said, really.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Les Too


      The country was NOT founded on Xtian principles. Not even a little bit. 6 of the 7 founding fathers were by definition or practice, Deists, The country was founded on humanitarian principles alone. Do a little historical research before posting a lie as the truth. I would suggest the Federalist Papers as a starting place. Then a reading of the voluminous letters they all wrote to each other. Never will you find anything that remotely smacks of "Jesus" or the minor storm deity Jehovah. They respected the god of NATURE alone and it is clear that that idea was not the Xtian god. THEIR INTENT WAS TO ESTABLISH AN "IMPENETRABLE WALL" BETWEEN THE STATE AND RELIGION. Period.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  10. clakjak

    God gave everyone free will...........................choose wisely

    July 31, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Hooligan

      I CHOOSE to call you a kook.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • lou

      Religion = a crutch that is wielded as a sword
      When you call them out on their collective hypocrisy and delusions they call foul and play the victim.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • bpsf

      I really like that. But it sound a little Indiana Jones.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Les Too

      This man is a Southern Baptist, people. They use a version of the bible which is mistranslated in most of the things that matter. They pray in public which is FORBIDDEN in the bible. They deny scientific truth. They believe that the word "religion" means Xtian. The Baptists in general (and the Southern branch specifically) actually believe this country was founded on Xtian principles (6 of the 7 Founding Fathers were, by practice or definition, Deists). They ignorantly think that their twisted brand of "morality" as found in the inaccurately translated KJV bible has meaning outside their own hateful religion. And there is the danger. They fit every description of a "cult" and the world will never be a better place until the hate-filled evilangelican Xtian church is once and for all defeated and made into nothing more than a line in the history books.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • manbearpig

      And what makes you think you've made the right choice?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  11. Hooligan

    You have to be kidding... religious liberty under threat?

    I actually was ON the side of Chick-Fil-A for the freedom to trade and spread business.

    THIS however is just ridiculous.

    No one is impeding on your right to practice your exclusive and mean spirited religion.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  12. Karl

    While I do not agree with the company's stance on marriage, I think it's absolutely ridiculous for any city or state to deny their business based on their stance. As long as the restaurant doesn't discriminate to customers based on those beliefs they should be allowed to operate a business just like any other.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Hooligan

      I agree with this... however they are not being discriminated because of their "faith".

      No where in the New Testament does it say "donate lots of money to anti gay causes"


      July 31, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • slugqueen

      And if they were openly racist and giving money to th KKK? What if they barred Jews, and gave money to the American Nazi Party?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  13. Jerry

    This is not about religious liberty! This is about a company that discriminates against the very people who it makes a fortune from. If you want a church that hates and discrminates against gay people then that is your right, but a business should not be able to discriminate based on ignorance. Only a few years ago Chick-Fil-A would have used the same logic against blacks soiling their all white restrooms. Only time has changed and gays are the new minority who gets the ax. The truth is painful to all you gay bashers but it is still the truth!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  14. MIke

    This is comical. Yelling our religious freedom is under attack while at the same time using your religioun to attack others that lead a life style you don't believe in....per your bible.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  15. Kate

    What if someone doesnt want chick fil a in their town because their food is extremely unhealthy, if their CEO stops profiting from the sale of this unhealthy food then the health of the country will go up and everyones health care costs will go down. The fact that their religious views were spoken was horrible press for them, it was their right to say it but it was very, very stupid from business prospective. Personally I dont eat at chik fil a, not because of their bigoted views (that i dont agree with), but the fact that eating their food is on par with smoking cigarettes. Also this company took 6 months to put up a "restaurant" in my neighborhood, their construction signs and trucks blocked the sidewalk the whole time, and they destroyed a church that had been there for years. In my opinion this company only has christian values when it matches with their financial values. Anyone who wants to support chic fil a can, but the fat in their food will kill you, and you will pay them to do that. You are what you eat.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  16. Lenny Pincus

    So we're supposed to stand around and let religious zealots abrogate citizen's rights because they claim the Bible lets them? Hey, R. Albert. Run down all the insanity in the Bible about marriage and explain to all the maroons which tenet they are supposed to follow. Impossible, right? Meanwhile, Chickfiller freezes out moms from management to make them "stay at homes".

    July 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  17. kevin

    Dear gays, this is why we have a second amendment so we can have a first amendment.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Napoleon7

      Stop giving tax breaks to churches and we'll have an equal playing field. Until then, it churches funded by the gov't vs everyone else

      July 31, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • ed galbraith

      AK47s so you can speak? What?????

      July 31, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  18. TexInd

    Let me understand this correctly. This is supposed to be wisdom and advise from a President of a Seminary that no really educated person would admit they went in 2012. From a religion that is losing people by the thousands because of their bigoted and hateful past. A past so hateful and shameful that they want to change their name to try to regroup and increase their falling numbers. A religion that believes Mormons, Catholics, and Jews are going to hell. A religion that has produced more Broadway Gay Stars and “Ministers of Music” then any other religion. Yes, I would we are under a "Threat" in America. The threat is the Southern Baptist Church and how they have tried to ruin our great American Country!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      You do seem to understand this correctly.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Les Too

      You hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the clearest unbiased assessment of this issue. Nicely done.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  19. Kimkcooke

    For years they have had religious freedom and imposed it on others. Why does their be Leif's dictate who I love? I want my freedom as well.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • McCave

      Love whom ever you want. Just stop asking us to embrace your behavior as normal.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  20. Darryl B.

    The religious zealots who own Chick-Fil-A publicly stated their bigotry, as is their right. Others publicly stated their opposition to such bigotry, as is their right. A few elected officials overreacted, saying that Chick-Fil-A wasn't welcome in their cities, but then backtracked when they were rightly advised that they had no legal authority to ban the company. How, exactly, is anyone's "religious liberty" threatened here?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Morgan

      No one's religious liberty is being threatened. This editorial is extremely reactionary and hysterical. To hear American evangelicals tell it, they're in a constant "war" to be able to practice their faith, but the truth is that they live in the most religiously tolerant country on Earth.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • allenwoll

      It isn't - But what role do facts play in this kind of emotional controversy ? ?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:35 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.