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Banning Chick-fil-A Would Set Dangerous Precedent

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

The flames that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah could not compare to the firestorm Chick-fil-A is under after President and COO, Dan Cathy, publicly voiced his stance on the issue of same-sex marriage and said that his company, which is privately owned and family operated, endorses the biblical definition of the family unit.

In an interview with the Baptist Press, Cathy made an effort to distance the fast food restaurant from the label, “Christian business,” but said the company does operate under biblical principles. The reporter made sure to ask Cathy about Chick-fil-A’s support of the “traditional family.”

Cathy's response:

“We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

He then acknowledged that the company’s defense of biblical principles would not be popular with everyone, but the company would “stay the course” on the issue.

The comments sparked outrage from gay rights activists, but it was the double-down on the stance that turned up the heat on Cathy and Chick-fil-A.

“We’re 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,” Dan Cathy said on The Ken Coleman Show. “And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

Questions regarding how appropriate it is for someone in Cathy’s position to make such comments have been raised, but the fact remains that he had the right to say it. He was right, too. Chick-fil-A’s support of the biblical definition of the family unit, which means strong opposition to same-sex marriage, is far from popular for many.

The backlash from Dan Cathy’s comments has been a press firestorm. Influential voices in politics, media, and gay rights activism have publicly rebuked Cathy. Some have called for an all out boycott of Chick-fil-A over the controversy. The response that has caught the most attention, however, from both supporters of Chick-fil-A and supporters of gay rights. Mayors like Thomas Menino (D-Boston, Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago, IL) support efforts to keep Chick-fil-A from opening franchises in their cities.

In Chicago, Adlernam Proco “Joe” Moreno wants to block Chick-fil-A from opening in the city’s Northwest Side. He vowed to deny the fast food chain the required business permit to open up shop in the 1st Ward, because of Cathy’s “bigoted, homophobic comments.” If a restaurant did open in the Northwest Side it would be the second Chick-fil-A to open in Chicago.

Rahm Emanuel quickly expressed his support for Moreno’s plans to keep Chick-fil-A out of his ward. When asked about Moreno’s decision, Emanuel replied:

"Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty."

In a time when violent crimes have escalated in the Chicago area, one must question how big of priority Chick-fil-A is to the mayor? From what Emanuel has said, any Alderman who stands with Ald. Moreno and says they too will deny business permits to Chick-fil-A because of a difference in moral philosophy, will get his support.

The Chick-fil-A already established in Chicago is just as popular in the city as the chain is in the rest of the country. The current unemployment rate in Chicago is 9.4% and while one franchise wouldn’t dramatically affect the number, it would create jobs. The higher the demand for Chick-fil-A, the more franchises that will open and more jobs will be created.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg voiced his disagreement with Rahm Emanuel and Thomas Menino. His position is that it is a matter of free speech and that government should not ban businesses based solely on the religious beliefs of one man or a group of individuals.

The constitutionally protected right of free speech allows anyone, no matter their position or social status, to openly express their opinions. However, there are always consequences for doing so. Dan Cathy knew his words would offend some people and that they would be controversial. Once an idea is inserted into the realm of public discourse it can be subject to rebuttal, criticism, and rebuke.

However, the use of government resources to block commerce, in any form, because an individual or group of individuals fail a politician’s personal litmus test is a dangerous precedent to set. Cities that act to ban a restaurant for opposing same-sex marriage give justification to elected officials in other parts of the country who would then want to ban companies because their executive officers support same-sex marriage.

Imagine if there was a movement in any city, county, or state government to have Kraft Foods removed and banned from supermarkets.

Consumers should and will ultimately decide what businesses they want in their area. If the residents of Chicago are so opposed to Dan Cathy’s position on same-sex marriage and homosexuality that they are going to boycott every Chick-fil-A franchise then a restaurant established in the Northwest Side would eventually fail. No business is going to continue to support a location that is hemorrhaging money.

There is absolutely no reason why Rahm Emanuel, Proco Moreno, Thomas Menino, or any other politician should actively work to block Chick-fil-A in their cities. If their constituents are truly that opposed to Chick-fil-A that is a failed investment on the part of the company and they will be forced to close down those franchises. That would be the ultimate message to Chick-fil-A and a big loss for the restaurant.

No level of government should be allowed to block commerce. Especially, because of personal differences in political or moral philosophy. The market should decide which businesses prosper and which businesses fail.

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