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. Bobby

    I honestly think this whole thing is ridiculous but, really, I never ate there to begin with. (a) Any person, Christian or non, who disagrees with people boycotting the store is stupid. THAT isn't a threat to religious liberty but merely the American people's right to express themselves non-violently. (b) Trying to prevent the business from expanding or people from eating there? Now THAT is not just a threat to religious freedoms but to free enterprise. If I WANT to eat there, the government has no right to tell me not to. I'm not going to because (a) I didn't do so before and (b) I'm against their value system, but I don't oppose people who do and honestly no one should. I don't shop at Target because of their views either but I'm not trying to "spread the word" on that boycott or try to run them out of town. I seriously think America would be going a lot smoother right now if everyone focused less on their neighbors and more on themselves.

    August 7, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  2. Your Panties in Texas

    I salute Dan Cathy and his chicken stores.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Still throwing bait....any bites?

      August 7, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm as much a fan of non sequiturs as anyone, but you're kind of getting out there.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  3. Can't Believe This Has Gone So Far

    I think everyone should start using their time to research all the corps and businesses we can and see just where they place their money. When it is all done, we might all walk around half naked, starving and walking everywhere cause these businesses put their money in causes that offends us. Guaranteed, the places we eat, where we buy clothing, cars, exc would change if we boycotted businesses based on the finding of the research. So research and give or don't give your money to businesses that you do not agree with how they spend their money.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Your Panties in Texas

      I enjoy being completely Naked. Is that okay with everyone?

      August 7, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      Panties, in the privacy of your own home you can do whatever you want, as long as all parties are consenting adults.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  4. magnumone

    Religious Liberties? How in the world did they get into this, Al?

    A CEO of a Corporation, Chick-Fill-A comes out against Equal Marriage and the Fundamentalist go nuts. However, the Church says that Chick-Fill-A is still neutral.

    J C Penney hires Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson. Almost every Fundamentalist organization calls for a boycott of J C Penney because they hired Ellen. The Fundies go ballistic. Full Scale Boycott of J C Penney they say.

    A year or so later, the President of Chick-Fill-A comes out and says that his company is a family business and will stick with Fundamentalist Principals which include opposition to Equal Marriage. Instantly the President of the company becomes the darling of every Fundamentalist spokesperson and leader in the United States. Then those who are most harmed by his words call for a Boycott. And let the Hyprocracy fly. "He is mearly exercising his free speech rights (Like Ellen was not?) He is sticking up for his religious liberties"

    The Fundamentalist say its okay to support Unequal Marriage but its NOT okay to support Equal Marriage (J C Penney for example what happened there, as I said above, is no different than the CEO of Chick-Fill-A taking a stand against Civil rights)

    And thats my opinion.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Fundies love to play victim. It's one of the ways they raise money.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  5. Ralph

    Not that most of you atheists give a dam about the gays of someone else s right to support who they want but atheists and gays started by actual violence then teamed up with the socialists and harassed and fought there way to this point and even teaching little children perverted S ways and you guys want to condemn a US business owner donating money to groups that don't allow this type of stuff to happen. I say you get what you sow you did it and still do it and now cry in your beer because one fine upstanding company has given money to another organization that doesn't support gay marriage. Where was all the outrage when you were doing this to everyone else?? Starting subversive organizations and atheists, socialists all joining hands to fight the majority of the American people, What a load of crap you guys serve up I hope more companies do it and I personally will try to get this to happen and even publicize it just so you can know that what you guys do can be done to you. So shut up and stop the whining and if you want to make change then do it the right way other wise anyone can do what you do.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Ralph's mother

      Teaching children perverted ways? You mean like the Boy Scouts and Catholic priests? You are personally going to do nothing except type your little perverted missives from my basement, Ralphie.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Ralph

      Exactly my point using a snarky cowardly name and not having the guts to be a man. Then if that wasn't bad enough use Priests that obviously have a problem most are H0m0 s by the way and the Boy Scouts, which actually happen to be a good organization just not in alignment with gay principles which is really a good idea. But on the gay side why not allow socialists in to destroy the country that is a subversive organization or also in the beginning partnered with the peds. Another atheist no account.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Ralph, you are an ignorant, vile excuse for a human being.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Bobby

      I really want to say I see where you're coming from but honestly you make no sense, Ralph. You're being a hypocrite by saying that those who have opposing viewpoints are "perverted" and wrong while the people who support your point of view are "upstanding." You have a right to your opinion but don't get aggressive when others don't agree and don't support your views.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  6. Dan

    Religious liberty does NOT imply the privilege to discriminate against other members of society. With this logic, why wouldn't I be allowed to say that my religion requires the sacrifice of a human once a year, or that all fathers wed their daughters? In America, you have a right to be a member of any religious group you choose. And I could care less what rules and restrictions you place on that group, however, when you try and apply your naive and discriminatory ideas to the general public, I have a problem.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • rfoster20

      Dan there was no discrimination... he simply stated his beliefs. he's not treating anyone in an discriminatory fashion.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Dan there was no discrimination... he simply stated his beliefs. he's not treating anyone in an discriminatory fashion."
      He has donated millions of dollars to organizations that actively try to get legislation to pass that does discriminate. They even aim to criminalize homosexuality.

      While he has the right to be the bigot and hateful person that he is, and speak his mind on the matter, everyone else has the right to call the hate speech and bigotry for what it is. His views are despicable and immoral and any rational person will stand up and speak out against such bigotry.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Chick-fil-a is donating millions to political groups that are trying to pass anti-gay legislature. Those of us who actually support the American ideal of equality find this to be repugnant. The people at Chick-fil-a can say what they want and donate where they please, but they can't escape the consequences of their actions. Nor can they claim that their religious freedom is under threat when they are the ones trying to keep freedom from others.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • It's About the Money

      rfoster20: The outrage is not about Mr. Cathy's speech, it's about where he spends his profits. He donates to groups such as the Family Research Council who actively lobby Congress in order to deny the rights of other citizens. Therefore, although I disagree with his speech, I support his right to speak as he wishes. I will not support his busines, however, because he actively promotes the restriction of other peoples rights on the basis of his religion.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Mother of a beautiful gay son

      Well stated Dan. No one is denying anyone's religious liberty. The people who don't agree with Mr. Cathy's stance are simply choosing to exercise their own rights under the first amendment. There is a special place in hell for judgmental religious zealots who turn so many away from God.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Mother: While I don't believe in the christian god (or any god), it is always wonderful to see parents who fearlessly love and support their children, despite the admonishments of religion. A loving parent is a beautiful thing.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  7. 0rangeW3dge

    My Take: Chick-fil-A controversy reveals Civil liberty under threat,,,they're the ones that started it by going behind people's backs and trying to abridge American's rights.
    "Religions" have over-stepped their own mandate, trying to play God,,,get over yourselves

    August 6, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  8. LJ

    Thank God for Chick-fil-A and other organizations like it.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  9. Jim

    If Chick-fil-a is SO biblical, this item could never appear on the menu..


    Perhaps they are 'selectively biblical' when it suits them.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • rfoster20

      Your an idiot. Your not smart enough to comment on what's biblical because you don't understand the bible. I'll help you out if you will study a little bit. read hebrews ch 9 and 1 Tim 4:1-4.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • LinCA



      Pot, meet kettle.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • midwest rail

      " Your an idiot. Your not smart enough... " Perhaps before you comment on someone else's intelligence, you should figure out the difference between "your" and "you're".

      August 6, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      I am smart enough to disregard the bible as a fictional work of men, created to control the actions of the weak minded "sheep" such as yourself.
      There are no biblical scholars, just as there are no Harry Potter scholars

      August 6, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Leviticus 11:7-8

      7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
      8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.

      Hmm. The bible seems pretty clear on the topic. I guess it's okay for you to disobey god if you like bacon.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Thom

      Noooo! Not my bacon! What kind of god hates bacon!? That's it!! I am going gay AND atheist.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  10. Michael

    Intolerance is only acceptable when done from the pulpit. Then we are required to tolerate it or we are the intolerant ones....

    August 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  11. Chris

    Years from now, those from a younger, more tolerant generation are going to look back at events like this in our nation's history with disgust and wonder how/why people could feel so strongly about supporting intolerance and discrimination as public policy. Drop the veil of religion and see what you preach for what it really is. Hate driven persecution of an underrepresented minority as a scapegoat for your problems. Christianity: Nazism for the 21st Century.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • fens

      Meh. Then the xians will do what they always do: claim how in fact it was thanks to xians that the progress was made. See: slavery; women's rights; Jim Crow; anti-semitism; etc.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  12. Whaaaa...?

    This opinion article (and most of the comments posted here) are based on a lie. No one is protesting because he stated his religious beliefs, which is exactly what he says here. 100% of the protestors are protesting because Chick-Fil-A has given over $5 million to organizations that openly oppose gay marriage, attempt to repeal pro-gay marriage laws, and run camps to "rehabilitate" gays. Nobody cares that he has religious beliefs, but they do care that the company provides money to deny others of their rights or repeal them. If there was a company spending money to supports those who looked to remove your right you would protest to, out of fear. That is what gays and their allies are doing. One of the companies Chick-Fil-A donated to lobby congress to not denounce the law in Nigeria that allows gays to be put to death... just for being gay.

    Whoever came up with this idea of it being an issue of religious freedom or freedom of speech is purposefully attempting to hide the issue. I sincerely hope the children of these bigots have the wisdom to learn from their failures.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  13. Craig from LA

    I think many here miss the point. I have no issue as a gay man with the owner's religious beliefs. My issue is with him donating money to organizations that seek to impose his/their religious beliefs on me therby denying me, a citizen of this great country, Equality. We forget that many who first came to this country did so because a tyrannical majority forcefully imposed its religious views on others who were in the minority such as the Puritans, Quakers, Catholics and Mennonites. This is the basis of my objection. Granting Marriage Equality denies no one their religious freedom or their right to marry. There is no harm. So, believe as you would believe, but do not force your religious views on others. Us asking for equality forces nothing on you as you lose no rights by us achieving equality. Live and let live folks.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Tim

      Hey Craig:
      With all due respect, How can we stop people donating to political causes that they believe in? Where do we draw the line? They are providing jobs and paying taxes etc. I think the only people getting hurt are the hard working people working behind the counter. I would think instead of picketing consider going to a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Tim, the line is drawn at discrimination. When a group seeks to legislate discrimination against a minority, those of us who believe in the basic rights of equality feel compelled to protest. I guess believing that human rights trump religious bigotry is just the American way.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  14. joels2000

    if someone says

    "I want to burn witches at the stake. It's my religious right! Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!"

    "denying me my rigt to put women on the pyre violates my religious rights. My religious liberty is threatened!

    August 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  15. Amobious

    Seems like the problem is there are two camps. Those that are concerned with their freedom of religion and those that are concerned with their freedom FROM religion.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  16. Bill Glover

    Religious freedom ends when the bigotry starts...Get it?

    August 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Jessica

      Or, My religious freedom can't be trumped by your religious freedom.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  17. This is ridiculous

    The GLBT community has given Chik-Fil-A so much publicity, that I feel like going there and check it out.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • gerald

      Wish there was one where I live. I would go every day if I could.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • sam stone

      good for you, gerald. choke on it

      August 7, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  18. child of midian

    while they can't ban a business based on the owners views, if that's the Companies Stance, and a corporation is an individual, then that individual and his/her discriminatory stance can be denied.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  19. DSay

    People!!! So many of these comments are overflowing with hypocracy. Just because someone doesnt agree with your point of view does not mean that they are spewing hatred, or that they deserved to be prosecuted. Where is all of the tolerance that so many of you all demand from everyone else? Obviously there are people that do not agree based off of the recent record sales.

    If you hold a strong position on this matter then DONT EAT THERE. Thats it. All of you cheering these elected officials for running this business out of town over a point of view, careful what you wish for. It may only be a matter of time before YOU are on the other side of an issue. Best hope they dont run you out of town.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      They did NOT just express a difference of opinion. They donated large sums of money to organizations that work to strip away civil rights. You can deny that marriage is a civil right all you want, but the SCOTUS disagrees with you – and, unfortunately for you, the SCOTUS is what actually determines what is a right and what is not in this country. So yes. I fully support anyone who wants to drive this bigoted, hypocritical business into the ground. And no. I do not worry about the day when I am called out for denying people their basic civil rights – because I will NEVER do that.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Greg s

      You say you will never do that, But one of these days a group you support may be denied there religious freedom, and you will be dealt with in the same way you wish to deal with this company, once you free the govt to punish a man based on his religious beliefs it will take bloodshed to to repeal such a law. Once religious freedom is lost the Govt will tell you who and where and what you worship, It wont matter that you dont believe, Because you will either believe or go to Jail, And dont say that cant happen here, What I saw happen to Chick Fil-a was something I never thought could happen here.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • J.W

      The government cannot punish him based on in religious beliefs. That wont happen.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Jessica

      @DSay, Then they are funding hate. Funding groups that work extremely hard to make sure I don't have the same rights they do is hate in my book. They don't even have to say it because they are funding it. THEIR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DOES NOT TRUMP MY FREEDOMS. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO TAKE OTHER PEOPLES FREEDOMS OR CIVIL RIGHTS AWAY.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  20. An inclusive Christian

    If the Chick-fil-A "attacks" are a threat to religious liberty, then what should we call it when NOM, the AFA, and other conservative organizations "attack" (aka boycott and otherwise berate) private businesses that take a stance that they find objectionable? The conservatives are the one's who have spent the past several years trying to bully private businesses into adhering to their personal religious beliefs, but now that the table has been turned on them they are whining about how unfair it is to "attack" them.

    As they say "if you can't take it, don't dish it out."

    August 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • BigDaddy

      Same goes to you...

      August 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Greg s

      Its a completely different set of rules being broken when it is elected officials threatening a business based on the owners religious beliefs. You personnely can boycott Chic-fil-a You could even create a organization to boycott anyone you choose. But the Mayor of Boston can not do what he did, As an American you should see the difference. You may not believe in God, but that is your protected right, You could lose that right and find yourself kneeling to something you have no interest in whatsoever by over looking what these elected officials said. It always starts small, Baby steps. This was a baby step towards this Govt stepping on freedom of religion.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
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About this blog

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.