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. George

    Could I suggest a short quiz or other mechanism to require that people actually read the article they're commenting on before they post comments? From reading a couple pages of the comments, it appears that about 90% of the people have no idea what the article actually said...

    July 31, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  2. JokerCNN

    Over the last few years, Walt Disney World, Pepsi, MillerCoors, JC Penney, General Mills, Oreos, Ben & Jerry's, Levi's jeans, Starbucks, Proctor and Gamble, Microsoft, Home Depot, Safeway, Old Navy, The Girl Scouts, Target, Walgreens, Ford, and GAP just to name a FEW have all been targeted for boycotts by so-called "Christian" groups for supporting marriage or partner benefits. Now who's liberties are being assaulted?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • hz

      you can boycott all you want, the problem here is government officials decide to deny permits simply because they don't like the restaurant owner's religious belief......

      July 31, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • California

      hz – Exactly.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  3. Objective

    Chick-fil-A passes judgement so everyone who disagrees with them is also passing judgement against them which is just as bad.

    While some people disagree with them, they do have the right to express their opinion like everyone else. It's just too bad people have to pass judgement too.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • hz

      the restaurant didn't pass judgement, it has never been charged with discrimination. the owner has the right to voice his own belief. in this case, those liberal government officials passed the fine line, and should be put in jail

      July 31, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Get off it. I pass judgment all the time and so does everyone else. Judging by the stance of the company's owner, I've decided he is a bigot. I just don't bother pretending I don't, unlike most christians.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  4. shell

    What Mr. Cathy does with his money is on him. However, when you start using company funds to make donations to specific groups then you're going to get push back. That said, Bloomberg is right and decisions on permits can't be decided by the owner's ethics and beliefs. Mr. Cathy has a right to build his stores anywhere they are zoned. He has a right to donate his money to charities of his choice. I have a right to eat elsewhere.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • hz

      yes, i agree with you that you have the right to NEVER eat at that restaurant.
      but deny permit based on owner's religious belief is simply WRONG, those government officials should rot in jail, not holding public office

      July 31, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  5. Rawmoney2012

    Same old b.s. It's a war against religion. Give it a rest. Want to know the extent of this war, just imagine an Atheist trying to run for President. Or how about a Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim? Even Romney right now is having problems with being a Mormon. No, only Christians can become President –only Christians can become the leader of this country–and Christian presidential contenders all have to be at least somewhat obvious in their faith. Christians are all over the place in Congress. They're all over the place in private life. A war on Religion=a war on Christianity. Just bull. Christianity already won. All this guy is whining, trying to play the victim, in order to generate some degree of anger in the people who will listen to him.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      agreed we are just fighting an oppressive regime so we could keep out right to religion, e are taking our country back from them nothing more

      July 31, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  6. Dean

    PBI: What hate? There is no hate here. There is blatant discrimination and hate on the part of those who are calling for Mr. Cathy's business to be punished because he dares to disagree with their views. There is no hate when Mr. Cathy promotes and advocates for his beleifs. Others vocalize inclusion while threatening exclusion. Neither Mr. Cathy nor Mr. Mohler has done anything to merit your citing of Galations 6:7-8 by the way.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  7. Peter

    Do what you want, just don't do it around me.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  8. JP

    heres the bottom line, it doesn't matter what laws were signed when bush was president, corporations are NOT people......nor should they act as such

    the president of chick-fil-a would do well to stay OUT of political discussion and religious discussion when it comes to HIS business and focus on what's best for his enterprise, and that is to provide a service to customers without discrimination according to US law......making statements that are discriminate will not help his cause and hopefully the recent protests and boycotts will highlight that

    bottom line: companies and corporations that have nothing to do with politics and/or religion should stay out of those topics of discussion

    July 31, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • hz

      bottom line : individual has the right to voice his own opinion, you can argue all you want but a government official can NOT deny permit to the restaurant simply because he doesn't like the restaurant owner's opinion.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  9. Mark

    Religion is not under attack. Freedom of speach is not under attack. But, if you want to use the bible to discriminate against a certain group of people then others have their right to voice their opposition. Simple as that. I'm also curious if Chick-fil-a is also going to stop selling sausage for breakfast since the bible also says not to eat pork. Or do they pick and choose what parts of the bible to live by ???

    July 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Ted

      The bible also gives rules on what your daughter must do when you sell her into slavery, you always have to pick and choose to make any argument on whom to hate

      July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • hz

      first, that restaurant hasn't been charged with discrimination, the owner has his right to voice his opinion, maybe you need give some facts about that restaurant's discrimination acts?
      second, you have all the right to voice your opposition against the restaurant owner, but a government official can not deny permit simply because he doesn't like the owner's opinion, to do so is a serious crime.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Laura

      Of course they do. That's the christian way.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • manbearpig

      But following all the inane stuff the bible demands would be too hard, and it would make christians look silly. That's why they're taught to cherry pick passages that they can interpret to support beliefs they already hold. Way easier!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  10. hz

    If an individual decide to never eat at the restaurant, that's fine.
    however, when a government official decide to not give permit to a company simply because he doesn't like the company owner's opinion is a crime, a crime against this free country, a crime that threatens the foundation of this country, a crime on the road to nazis.
    liberals however seems pretty fine with this crime, hmm, i guess liberals are nazis in their heart afterall, no wonder.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • LizT

      "I guess liberals are nazis in their hearts after all" Nice – what a very unChristian thing to say. While I find Mr. Cathy's views on this subject objectionable, I don't think that any gov't agency has a right to deny any permits etc... UNLESS they are taking government money (including in the form of tax breaks) ~ but for you to flail around with a "Nazi" comparison is just sick.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  11. Jesse

    Man, Jesus your savior died on the cross and all these modern day Christian's can't handle the comparably minuscule social unrest they themselves have caused. I'm pretty sure the bible never promised being a Christian was forever to be easy and without its turmoil. How about a little CONVICTION. Man up! There is no threat to religious liberty. How many PRO-GAY mega-corporations are there that vocally target Christianity by funding anti-christian endeavors. Oh that's right, zero.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Thomas

      How many ACL laywers going after Christianity. Answer: too many to count. "Manning up" doesn't mean "doing nothing".

      July 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Thomas, if the ACL lawyers have cause to go after christianity something is very very wrong.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  12. Foggy

    Moby...a number of times now I've tried to post a reply explaining why it is church and state..I don't know why but obviously some filter is killing it...thought it might be the word seminal so I changed it to initial..no luck.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  13. Nursehope

    IF Chick-Fil-A is truly interested in selling chicken products for profit, they should abstain from alienating ANY customer-past/present or future. IF Chick-Fil-A is truly interested in promulgating a specific religious mme, fallout and backlash is the result. Plan ahead. Cover your bases.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Thomas

      Chick-Fil-a can do what trhey want. It is your perogative to not eat chicken there.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Objective

      Honestly, if you are going to avoid the place when you are hungry just because of their stand on religion, it's your choice but also your loss of some great food.

      I could care less what they think. They have that right, whether I agree with it or not, but I'll still eat there if I'm hungry.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  14. Aurast

    As a supporter of the LGBT community and of gay marriage, I find it appalling that someone would be prevented from opening a business on their own property because of their personal views.

    This kind of thing can easily go the other way too. Maybe tomorrow, Texas will start kicking out all gay entrepreneurs for the same reason, that "their views don't match with that of our community", whatever that means, as if a city is some kind of collective where everyone thinks the same way.

    Look, you either have free speech or you don't, there's no in between. This is one of those situations where we need to stand by the right of people to have opinions that we don't agree with.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • McCave

      Wow. Very well said!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Foggy

      Hear Hear! Tolerance isn't about how you deal with the things you accept. Its about how you deal with the things you disagree with.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  15. Karaxxus

    Satan is the only true Lord, so what is the point of any thing posted here?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • 4Jesus

      Look, we need to put church and state back together as they ARE one and the same! Without the hand of the Lord, society would spiral downward into a dark pit of moral servitude. There should even be an atheist registry so we can avoid hiring those whos moral compass is broken.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Bill Fitzgerald

      Lucifer was cast down and will never have a body or be able to reproduce and can never have eternal life which is life with God. The word is disqualified, DQ, hasta la bye bye. Hey that was funny. READ the scriptures before you make stuff up will you?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Wow Bill, you really took that bait and ran with it.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  16. beneficialmedia

    Religious liberty is an oxymoron.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Thomas

      How so? Everyone in this U.S. has the freed om to wroship as they choose. You are trying to be cute, just coming up way short.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  17. TommyTT

    Be very careful here. This argument is not about religion and it's not about rights. It's about the fact that you do not have a right to discriminate, religious or otherwise. The argument "But what about my right to live on a block without n-people?" is long discredited. These groups may be able to escape prosecution when they behave with bigotry, but that doesn't make them right.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Joe

      There is no discrimination here, Marriage is not a right. Marriage is a sacrament as defined by the bible.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • manbearpig

      No, it isn't. That may be what it means to you, but that isn't want it means to the US government. My wife and I are both atheists, and we're married. And gues what? There are tons of non-christian married people out there. Try to wrap your mind around it.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  18. Karl

    By the way in regards to your comparison to churches/synagogues/mosques etc, religions is their product, chick-fil-a's product is a chicken sandwhich, bit of a difference there.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • debbie

      Karl, you missed that point totally. Too bad some people aren't intelligent enough to read between the lines. This article hit the nail on the head perfectly. This is just one organization that is being harassed by the gay community. Are they going to try that with the Catholic Church or Jewish sects that also believe in the Biblical definition of marriage? I think not they would not get too far attempting to restrict either of those denominations from teaching and preaching what they believe. People need to reason clearly that what the gay organizations are trying to do is stop people from having any opinion that is contrary and opposed to their own way of thinking. That can not and should not be tolerated in any way shape or form.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Joe

      Way to totally miss the point!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  19. C in Texas

    Yes! Give 'em hell, Mr. Mohler! Sorry, as a reformed fundamental Southern Baptist (fond sarcasm intended), I couldn't resist. And as a writing instructor, I must commend you for an excellent article.

    Mr. Cathy MUST hold firm to what he said. He has the right to state his beliefs. And this article has done an excellent job at explaining HOW this issue absolutely threatens the freedom of religion, which is a FUNDAMENTAL part of being an American!

    And I can't believe the idiocy of those elected officials! Wait, they're politicians. Why am I surprised? Where are the great minds like our forefathers!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • McCave

      good answer. thanks

      July 31, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  20. PBI

    Perhaps you should read the bible a bit more. Start with Galatians 6:7-8.
    That is what is happening to the hateful owner of Chick-fil-a

    July 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • McCave

      I think that verse has more to do with you than Dan Cathy.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • debbie

      PBI you can't just state scriptures without acting having a true understand of those scriptures. Those scriptures tell us not to mock God. And mocking God entails watering down or ignoring his explicit teachings on what he views as marriage. Man can not redefine what God has already ordained. They can with free will do what they want and ignore God's commandments but he never lies. He tells them exactly what will happen if they continue their sinful ways. The scriptures you mentioned in no way refer to the owner of Chick-fil-A.. You Sir, apparently don't know what your speaking about and please don't quote scriptures if you can't back it up and reason from the scriptures your position!!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Joe Schmoe

      How is he hateful? For stating his beliefs? What an ignorant dolt you are. Crawl back under the rock where you came from.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:18 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.