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Chick-Fil-A, Bigotry, and Rights

Chick-Fil-A, Bigotry, and Rights

Chick-Fil-AMost people have by now heard of the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha. There are a few issues related to it that I'd like to discuss. But first, just for anyone who hasn't heard of what's been going on - a few weeks ago, Chick-Fil-A's president and CEO, Dan Cathy, made the following comments on The Ken Coleman Show (source: Christian post:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

The comments ignited a firestorm of protest and a bit of a scandal in their response. Opponents of marriage equality were understandably happy with Cathy's comments, and at the suggestion of Mike Huckabee, this past Wednesday was Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, giving the chain record sales. Supporters of marriage equality came back with a Same Sex Kiss Day on Friday.

I have to say, I'm really rather surprised that this whole fiasco blew up so suddenly. After all, it's not as if Chick-Fil-A's position on marriage equality was a secret. In 2010, the company donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups. A local franchise in Pennsylvania donated lunches to an anti-gay marriage seminar, without any censure from the home office. Here's an article from 2007 in Forbes detailing the discriminatory practices of the company. And there are plenty of other examples of the company behaving badly. I'm not sure why these recent comments have caused such an uproar.

One issue is whether or not we should care about the political opinions of the heads of companies. Lots of people have crazy ideas, and if we limited our patronage only to those businesses run by people that we agreed with on every issue, there wouldn't be many businesses we could go to. However, some issues are more important than others, and wanting to deny basic rights to a particular segment of the population is certainly a big one. But still, just an ideological disagreement of opinion, in my mind, isn't enough of a reason to boycott an establishment.

The problem comes when the disagreement is more than just opinion, or just the actions of individual employees of the company. When the company institutes official policies that are discriminatory (go read that Forbes article), then I do start to question whether or not to support that company. And when they use company profits - money I paid them - to donate to such organizations as Exodus International or the Family Research Council (officially designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), then I really must draw the line. It's no longer just a difference of opinion, but giving financial support to bigoted organizations actively campaigning to deny people civil rights.

In fact, due to their policies and donation history, I've had my own personal 'soft' boycott of Chick-Fil-A for a few years now. On my own, I won't eat at the restaurant. However, if I'm with a group of people, and they decide to go there, I won't refuse. So, in the past 5 years, I'd guess that I've been to Chick-Fil-A 3 times. I don't think the slight profit on 3 chicken sandwiches has significantly contributed to the anti-marriage equality movement.

This is also one of the areas that's surprised me a bit in the coverage I've seen of this issue. So much of it has focused on Cathy's recent comments. Why hasn't their been more discussion of the company's donation history?

Unfortunately, this situation has brought out some bad reactions from politicians on the left. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, among others, have gone on record as willing to block Chick-Fil-A from setting up shop in their cities. Emanuel had this to say:

Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you're gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.

And Menino wrote the following in an open letter:

There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it... I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston.

Sorry guys, but you can't do that. No matter how much you may disagree with Cathy, or how odious you may find the organizations Chick-Fil-A has donated to, it's their First Amendment right to do so. As public officials, you can't stop them from expressing their views, or try to block their business because of it. All of us private citizens are free to boycott the company in protest, but the government can't interfere.

Although I'm surprised that Cathy's recent comments set off such a firestorm, I suppose it may have been the trigger in a situation that was already at its boiling point. As I pointed out above, Chick-Fil-A's position on marriage equality has been no secret for quite a while, now, and their record of donations to bigoted organizations and hate groups is well documented. It was a bit disheartening to see such an outpouring of support for Chick-Fil-A's position on this particular matter, but it was also troubling to see left wing politicians wanting to infringe on Chick-Fil-A's First Amendment rights. For my part, I'll continue to avoid eating at the restaurant.

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