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. eroe777

    Religious liberty if not under threat. Mr Cathy has every right to run his privately owned business as he sees fit and to speak his mind as a free citizen of this country. However, he, and everyone lined up to defend him, have to remember that there are consequences for supporting an increasingly unpopular position. For Mr. Cathy and Chick-Fil-A that consequence comes in the form of a TON of bad publicity at a time when he is trying to expand his business into regions of the country that are more secular and tolerant than his home base in the south. There are no Chick-Fil-A's in my part of the country, but if there were I would not patronize them because of his opinions. That is my right as a free citizen of this country.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  2. Jessica

    I don't agree with you. Chances are that no town mayor can legally keep any store out of where they want to be if the zoning is correct. Geez, You religious types say nasty garbage day in and day out to us and for once the other side is riding your but a little bit and you're acting as if the world is ending.

    You know darn well that if the zoning of a store front or lot matches your type of business there is no way anyone can can keep you out. So STOP your belly aching and whining. Stop the fake "I'm such a victim" nonsense, we see right through you.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  3. ZZ

    Very well written article - disgusted by most of these responses. Freedom of religion.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Answer

      The correct emphasis is : "Freedom FROM religion."

      August 1, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Christopher

      Companies are not, in fact, people and cannot have religions. Choosing to mix up their bigoted agenda with a company's image is unprofessional at best, and if they get in trouble for it, they have only themselves to blame.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • Jessica

      We have no problem with freedom of religion. It's the shoving your religious laws down our gullets that we hate about you and your religion.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • hkjh

      hate is now the new religion, freedom to hate

      August 1, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Damocles

      Yes, you have freedom of religion, everyone does, but this does not allow you to curtail the rights of others. You can try to use your religious beliefs as a cover to your own petty hatreds, but act like a big kid when you get called out on it.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • California

      You can't expect a liberal leaning news site to be anything but. CNN is just above NBC status which is just below tabloid status.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  4. damo12345

    It's amazing how bigots never get tired of saying "Stop being so intolerant of my intolerance!"

    August 1, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Jessica


      August 1, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  5. bakum

    what a sanctimonious load of self pity. Tyranical intolerance? Get a grip! Menino, Emanuel, Lee...they expressed an OPINION. They did nothing official, proposed no legislation. This is their own right to free speech they are exercising. But for Mohler this is TYRANICAL. What a jerk.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:57 am |
  6. Michael

    Oh look... the Southern Baptists, who split from their Northern brothers due to thinking slavery was A-okay (the North disagreed, of course) are still standing true to their roots. They're trill trying to persecute minorities while screaming that THEY'RE the ones under threat when anyone dares to call them out on their bigotry.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  7. Kyle

    I am so so so sick and tired of the christian hypocrisy. How many hundreds or thousands of towns have christian government officials kept businesses like adult book stores, or strip clubs, or bars from opening up? How many towns restrict business rights to operate at whatever hours they want by restricting beer sales on sundays, or after 2am? These are almost unanimously religious groups doing EXACTLY what the mayors of boston and chicago have said they would do.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • postedbygeo

      Ssatan's religion speaks with a ssnaky forked tongue. What else do lazy americans like than muddle east religions that idolize 33yr old men, no children, no wife, no girlfriend. Did this post?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  8. postedbygeo

    Thanks CNN you have blocked all my posts.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  9. Witness

    Believe anything you want. But express bigotry and suffer the consequences. Just like "orders" didn't justify Nazi repression, saying that your church made you say stupid things won't cut it.

    Christian churches have a long history of getting it wrong...many provided cover for slavery and racial discrimination. Candidate Romney's church referred to blacks as "mud people".

    The majority of Americans are tired of religious mischief and misdirection.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  10. sfdr

    This article is the very definition of hate. Promoting inequality is discrimination, pure and simple. They always said the devil would appear in the least suspecting place.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  11. Chris Rutter

    SHAME ON YOU CNN. ONE SIDED BIASED BIGOTS. you forgot to mention how much you donate to killing gay people. i want you to burn in hell for being such bad reporters and posting this filth.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  12. Jr

    I ate there once years ago. I don't know why people like it....the food was bad. I can make a much better chicken sandwich at home!

    August 1, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  13. sfdr

    I agree, we are on the brink of "tyrannical intolerance," but it's not from our elected leaders as much as it is from someone like this who has the indecency to defend inequality and foster division among the very people who he should be defending in the name of religion. This guy makes me believe that southern baptists don't believe in equality and will go to great lengths to ensure that he and his type ensure that no one can be included in his religious definitions. Funny since the bible I taught was inclusive of everyone – not just a select few or most. Jesus, indeed God, were both very clear about this. Jesus was a uniter and champion of those who were shunned by society. This guy defends inequality and division. Whose side are YOU on?

    August 1, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  14. Slovestra

    The religious sector is always claiming that they are under attack, but they are the ones who pump money into discrimination legislation and policy.
    This is the thing...The Mayors should have instead threatened an investigation into the hiring and franchisee vetting process and practices of this company, in states that do not allow discrimination and investigate if they have violated any state anti-discrimination laws. This would put CEO cluck-cluck in a very difficult situation regardless, true it will be costly, false it would send him back concentrating on real business and not espouse, on behalf of everyone at Chick-Fil-A, his polemic views

    August 1, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  15. Veritae

    In this country, we have a Right to believe what we wish;

    I, for one, will gather my family together on the weekends and order from this company at our local mall because:

    They have exercised their right to the First Amendment. Who the frick are the gay advocates to deny them their right to believe and express what they wish to. tolerance is a two sided street. The gay agenda seems to have forgotten this. I will kill for your right to choose, even if I don't agree with your decision. That is why I served this country.

    When tolerance become a vehicle of political intolerance,, those advocates are simply wrong... Period. The gay agenda have become the persecutors of the First Amendment. They are wrong in this. They are the Haters now.

    Good evening.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Damocles

      Let me say, first of all, thanks for serving, its appreciated. Now let me say this, I don't believe that I have seen a 'gay agenda'. What I have seen is people trying to fight for the same rights as anyone else. I don't believe any group or individual should have more rights than someone else, but we all deserve the same rights. If two adults can fall in love and want to be with someone for the rest of their lives, than all the power to them. A marriage isnt a guarantee of anything and any of them can end in failure, but they have the right to be married. Its simple common sense.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • Tiny Tim

      The first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want. The first amendment does not protect you from the consequences. People are free to vote with their feet.

      People protesting Chik-A-Failure are free to do so- it is not a "suppression" of religious liberty.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Jessica

      The gay agenda can be boiled down into one word: EQUALITY. Why does your religion have such a problem with EQUALITY?

      Seems like you're the ones with a hateful agenda.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  16. Netdancer

    They can espouse any ideology they want, but equally it is people's right to listen, then vote with their money. I am Christian. I will never eat at a Chick Fil A again because Jesus never taught that hate was a family value.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • Doug

      Please identify at any point where hate was espoused by Mr Cathy?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  17. Ross Paguinto

    I know that whoever rejects God and those that represent God will be curse down to many generation. You will find out at the end all you atheist and immoral people.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • Slovestra

      Typical, the biblical punishment argument.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  18. kbai

    bad news:

    good news:

    August 1, 2012 at 1:23 am |
  19. aCollageOfFactsAreStillLies

    See, here's the thing. I don't care if you BELIEVE in marriage as defined by one man and one woman because of your religion, but because there is a separation of church and state, I can't support a company that has no business investing money into religious politics. The investing of money into politics that go against separation of church and state, is the problem with Chick-Fil-A, NOT the fact that they have an opinion. Honestly, the Chick-Fil-A president could be involved in any foul activity they please, but if they make it known they spend profits on politics, it is obvious the people who don't share the same views will not spend their money there, and will encourage others to do so. God bless America for giving me the choice of Popeye's or KFC over Chick-Fil-A.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Chris

      It becomes a problem when mayors tell the restaurant that they're not allowed to open in their city.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • elephantix

      I'm not certain you know what "separation of church and state" means. Separation of church and state deals with the government forcing a religion onto its people, or prohibiting the free exercise OF religion. That doesn't mean that someone can't vote based on their religious beliefs. Laws are always informed by morality, and are attempts to enforce morality. Therefore, everyone is going to vote based on some sort of belief system. To say that you can vote on a law in any way EXCEPT by using your religious beliefs isn't illegal- it's just ridiculous. Why wouldn't I be able to make up my mind based on any set of factors I choose? That's my right- my right to an opinion, no matter how it's formed.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • Joe

      So Chik-Fil-A is State run now?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Damocles


      Thats very, very dangerous. Suppose I am a lawmaker and I form my opinions by tossing pebbles in the air and seeing what kind of pattern they form upon landing? I want rational, common sense type people making my laws.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • elephantix

      @Damocles I think you have it backwards- trying to control people's thoughts and telling them how to think is dangerous.

      There is a difference between trying to affect people by passing legislation you want (what religious people are trying to do) and trying to control people by weeding out those that don't have the same thoughts as you do (what you are suggesting). It's a slippery slope and I sincerely mean that you (and a lot of other people) need to understand the difference. A lawmaker that throws pebbles? Maybe that's fine, or maybe he loses his re-election. But for every John Q. Citizen that tosses pebbles? Well, there's nothing you can do about that. It's called freedom of thought.

      What you're suggesting is to have a ballot in November, and next to the punch box adding a section for an essay response so people can explain their answers.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  20. waffenexcalibur

    Oh no, the poor Christians are getting discriminated against! The United States no longer has freedom! Get over yourselves, idiots. Christianity is declining in America and by the turn of the century, atheists will outnumber the religious in the USA and every other first world country. Why? Because the human race is finally leaving the Dark Ages behind.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Colin

      Let's hope so. It is startling to me that Bronze Age mytholoy still forms the basis of so many religions today. We are a pathetic species.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • Doug

      Thanks to Mr Mohller for a well reasoned, logical, though provoking and clear headed article. Will there be thoughtful responses or merely angry and hate-filled ones like the above?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • elephantix

      And as seemingly requested by your posts, I say "thankfully we have waffenexcalibur and Colin to be smarter than everyone on earth over the last 1,000 years to lead us out of our stupidity!"

      waffen- I suggest you're wrong in your prediction. There will be a rebound in the #'s, there always is. Religion sticks around for a reason.
      Colin – For all of your (I presume) research, you must be well read and therefore spend a lot of time doing it. It's startling to me that you continue to be startled by something that must be so often-occurring as to obvious. Therefore, it seems like the shock should've worn off by now.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • Eric

      It won't happen soon enough.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:04 am |
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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.