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. Just being mean- those lonely leftist

    Oh, which GLAD group is going to speak out against Black Pastors? The are anti same gender marriage too.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  2. Just being mean- those lonely leftist

    As for your counter culture experince and rallying around GLAD asking for a Kiss out at Chik on Friday, see you there.

    Us Christians will be hunging and high fiving and fist tapping.

    Love you g. .. A...y....s..... Have fun bashing Christians.

    We will still love you.

    No hate here. Just on your side.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  3. Just being mean- those lonely leftist

    Everyone, means everyone is allowed their opinion.

    You can be wrong. That is okay.

    Same gender marriage is wrong. Period.

    Don't eat at Chik, eat at Chik. Who really cares what you do and how you spend your money.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  4. Pt8685

    Liberal logic: "I think hate is the worst thing ever. If you don't agree with me, you must hate me, and I hate people who hate me. I only love people who love to hate the people I hate. I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?"

    August 1, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • tcinaz

      So you hate Liberals because they feel the way you, in your infinite wisdom have decided all of us must feel. regardless of all the permutations of thought that in fact exist on any issue of this ilk. Nice description of how conservatives think. Simplify, codify, categorize, and reject, without any evidence to support the entire analysis.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  5. bp

    What a load of crap. America is on the road to becoming a Christian theocracy more than anything else. And as history has proven time and again, there are few groups more hateful, intolerant and self-righteous than Christians.

    "It is necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." – Pope Boniface VII
    "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter." – Adolf Hitler

    August 1, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Pt8685

      Do you realize you're quoting from a 10th century anti-pope who murded his predecessor and an obvious anti-Christian psychopath who perverted economics, politics, science, and religion equally to justify his genocidal programs?

      August 1, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  6. Ann Williams

    The only threat to religion or 'religious freedom' is a rational mind. Religion is not spirituality.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Ann Williams

      "The only threat to religion or 'religious freedom' is a rational mind."

      *Excellent !


      August 1, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  7. Joseph R Glodek

    To those that cry, "Attack on religious liberty!", I have one thing to say to you, and that one thing is, "Wah, wah, wah!" I am a gay man, but I respect that you have your right as individuals and as communities to have views that differ with mine. However, you will receive no sympathy or empathy from me on this matter. The fact of this matter is that you have, for many years, attacked my religious, personal and economic liberties. You may ask, then, why I do not have empathy for you. The answer is a simple one. You have yet to show any amount of acknowledgement of this ill will toward me.

    You have acknowledged the wrongness and sinfullness of some in your communities who have perpetrated direct physical harm upon some in my community. That is all, though. There are many places where an upstart business could be denied necessary permits and zoning because someone who is a neighbor or in the local government believes that the owner is gay or lesbian. If the business gets off the ground, local officials such as the police may choose to ignore complaints of harassment without any accountability for this discrimination.

    Before you cry fowl, look first at yourself. If you can swear upon your faith that you are not a hypocrite, then you will have my empathy. You will never have my sympathy.

    Finally, it isn't just about the ideas- it is about the money. That the business is taking in money that goes towards hate mongers is what has people going over the edge on this.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  8. Otto

    Dan Cathy is giving a lot of money to groups that are actively working to deny basic human rights to a specific group of people and he's using his religion as justification. It's free speech for him to do that and it's free speech for me to not support his business because of it. If you consider that an attack on religious freedom then so be it.

    August 1, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  9. Matthew

    Liberals and the LGBT community are the most intolerant groups in the U.S. Any opinion contrary to what they espoused is squashed and silenced by any means they could. America should wake up from this nightmare and put these intolerant group in their proper place!

    August 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • jungleboo

      YOU'VE got a lifetime job with the INQUISITION!! Congratulations! Pick up your mask and machete at the Chick Flay drive up window. We are happy to see you! Need binocs? Or will you troll in drag, kind of an undercover agent?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • pythagorion

      the only people making problems are those who think they can/should control others. this is not a threat to any religion. but it is very much a threat to backwards "religious" beliefs controling our country.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Divdar

      jungleboo, thank you for proving Matthew's point with your fine example of intolerance and hate.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • ufadoof

      I'm guessing you believe the death penalty is just as well. American christians act like they never have actually read their bible.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Oz in OK

      Matthew, you mean 'proper place' as in 'concentration camps' like some of your pastors keep yelling about from the pulpit? Classy.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  10. Joe

    We do not have to be tolerant of your intolerance. Simple as that.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      so let me get this straight...

      I don't believe what you believe and that makes me intolerant...

      You don't believe what I believe and thats okay....

      Some how this logic is twisted.....

      August 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  11. danachilton

    Chick-Fil-A is not a church! Had the restaurant chain had come out for Islam and donated its corporate cash to jihadists in the middle east and to the persecution of Christians abroad (just like Chick Fil A funds the persecution of gays in Uganda) our southern Baptist friend would be asking why a corporation would act like a house of worship, and demand that our government take action against them. But because it's, instead, a powerful and wealthy ally to his own political views, he plays the role of martyr.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  12. Missy

    Oh yeah and eat more chicken! I support chick-fil-a!!!

    August 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Rusty Zipper

    Gay marriage is a crock, Im certain gays care about each other, and it's no crime to be gay, but it's not the same as a normal man woman natural bond, it's a different animal. amd it shouldn't be characterized as marriage. I think they should decise a different designation for it, but it shouldn't be marriage. Can't jsut rewrite morality, when it suites your personal desire- then morality means nothing.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Clara

      "Can't jsut rewrite morality" um, actually, morality has demonstrably shifted over the past centuries and even decades.

      So when was the last witch burning you went to?

      August 1, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • pythagorion

      morality like all the men having affairs, all the men making babies and jumping ship, all the men deciding the woman is too ugly/old/fat/...
      the only MORALITY is people understanding we are not the judge of our brothers and sisters. a marriage license is not a religious thing, it is a GOVERNMENT thing. and it was created in the dark ages by religious MEN trying to control who dumped children on their lands and left.
      hmmmm ... seems to be a theme. religion trying to control the idiot behaviors of men.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • ufadoof

      Cats get married. Who knew?

      August 1, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • A. Traynor

      To Clara: Actually, no witches were ever burned in the Salem witch trials, if you were referring to witch trials in this country. But, let's not let the facts interfere with some histrionics, right?

      August 2, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Gay marriage is a crock, Im certain gays care about each other, and it's no crime to be gay, but it's not the same as a normal man woman natural bond, it's a different animal"

      More stupidity, you have no clue what you are talking about. Heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      August 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  14. Jeff Fox

    Chick-Fil-A has the right to say what they believe and give money to whoever they chose.......however....why is it when churches say things it is their beliefs so that's ok....but when someone goes against them that is "putting their liberties under threat"?

    August 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  15. Love it!

    Beautiful- let's just hope the momentum carry through to the election. Gays- sorry your going to have to be unhappy on this one. I had my first chick a fil today for lunch, it was DELICIOUS, now im going for dinner and tomorrow morning breakfast – I hear they have great breakfasts. Liberals, maybe you should protest all of us?

    August 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Laura

      Maybe afterwards you should visit Walmart for larger pants and then make an appointment with your doctor. You're going to need both.

      August 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Take some Metamucil if you are having a lot of fast food.

      August 1, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • ufadoof

      Being a liberal (elitist, capitalist). I will continue to invest in health care stocks thanks to your moronic behaviors. They have made me quite a bit of capital thanks to obese fly over state bible thumpers like yourself. Keep up the good work!

      August 1, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  16. scott

    It is not just what he said, but the fact that the company has contributed MILLIONS to organizations that seek to take rights away from LGBT AMERICANS. What if a business was trying to take rights away from women, or Jews, or African Americans........??? Bigotry is bigotry.

    August 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Chris

      People are protested what he said.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Stephen

      No, people are protesting the millions of dollars spent to fight against their civil rights. Some of us have been boycotting them for years. What he said put a spotlight on him, and raised awareness of the actions the company has taken to defeat equal rights legislation. Nobody wants a portion of what they spend at a company to be donated to groups that use it to fight their own rights. Had it been just what he said, it would have never grown into a national boycott.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  17. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  18. mark

    I absolutely HATE religion and it's followers. I wish all you sorry excuses for humanity would just off yourselves and save the rest of the (sane) world the tired old BS you never seem to get tired of spouting.

    August 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Mike A

      Now look who's being intolerant.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Jay

      You are a wonderful example of tolerance and advocate of First Amendment Rights for all. NOT!

      August 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Chris

      Do you work at the NYT?

      August 1, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • pythagorion

      the religions are the ones who make the problems. we non-religious/self-thinkers dont have a problem with beingsbeing beings.
      ya'all got to stop drinking the coolaide

      August 1, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  19. HumanistJohn

    More of the "christianity is being persecuted" nonsense. Why is it when christians are called out on there immoral and vile beliefs that they cry and whine about being persecuted?

    August 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • mark

      Because they're pathetic excuses for human beings who fail to see the truth about the 'faith'. Selective reality is usually seen as a mental illness. Why these morons aren't treated the same is beyond me.

      August 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Chris

      Hey John...Look up what's happening to Christians is Nigeria...really.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • I love Christian Values

      More of the "christianity is being persecuted" nonsense. Why is it when christians are called out on there immoral and vile beliefs that they cry and whine about being persecuted?

      Seriously? The immoral beliefs as you call them are stated in the Bible. Why would you say they are immoral? is it because your dont believe them? I pray that you will take a serious look at what God says about this subject.

      Just so you know my family and I pray for all walks of life. We also pray for God to help us with our sins. We are not out judging people.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Clara

      Chris, let's send more of them there.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  20. trekie70

    To Mr. Al Mohler

    "And yet the controversy over Chick-fil-A is a clear sign that religious liberty is at risk......"

    Bull! How is the opposition's voicing of their opinion a threat to anything? It's called free speech. Look it up. Debate is central to how a democracy function.

    If voicing my opinion "threatens" you Al, you have much bigger problems to worry about, LOL.

    August 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Mike A

      Really guy? Elected officials are threatening to stop a business from expanding because their President expressed his personal view. That's just as bad as any employer letting someone go based on personal belief. It's just not right.

      August 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Marco

      Bigotry has no place in modern society. While you idiot religious types cling to bronze age beliefs, some of us would like to move into the 21st century without being chained to your outdated views or morality. We no longer say the Earth is flat, or that the Sun revolves around us, nor do we participate in slavery, animal sacrifice, etc. Why should we give any leeway to your own personal beliefs? It's real simple...keep that nonsense to yourself unless you expect to see reasonable people put the smackdown on your intolerant belief system. I'd also like to take it a step further...since religions like to sway government, let's remove the tax exempt status from all major religions and see how long they last.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • I love Christian Values

      "It's called free speech. Look it up. Debate is central to how a democracy function."

      So why cant Dan Cathy have his free speech withouth being attacked.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Stephen

      He has free speech. I used it to draw attention to himself, and now everybody knows about the $5 MILLION DOLLARS spent to oppose equal rights. Those that disagree with the company's ACTIONS (donating money to groups that use it to actively fight all forms of gay rights) are choosing to boycott. Nothing in the 1st Amendment says that your speech is protected from consequences. Actions have consequences as well.

      August 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @ Marco, Thanks, you've got vim and verve, and have expressed your thoughts brightly!

      August 1, 2012 at 9:57 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.