The fallout from the controversial interview given by Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy over anti-gay comments continues to build. While most business leaders work hard to keep their political and religious views from affecting customers or their business, Cathy came out swinging with comments saying that he runs the company according to Biblical commands and that he views gay marriage as a sin. The result has been national boycott, store protests, and most recently moves in major cities like Chicago to bar the restaurant. The suggested legislation in Chicago would be in my view unconstitutional. Despite our disagreement with Cathy, civil libertarians should defend his right to do business without harassment or censure from the government for his views. His company is subject to anti-discrimination laws. Those laws protect his employees from “Biblical” harassment.
The gay rights group Equality Illinois is launching a campaign against Chick-Fil-A – petitioning universities and lawmakers to evict the fast food restaurant from their campuses. There is also a plan for a “kiss-in” campaign by gay and lesbian couples outside Chick-Fil-A restaurants. The latter protests are perfectly constitutional. Indeed, Cathy decided to force this issue in his interview and should have expected that his comments would enrage some consumer while delighting others.
It is the plan of Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) that crosses the line.
I would also oppose as an academic an effort to bar the restaurant at universities. Universities are institutions committed to free speech and free thought. To start to bar groups or businesses on the basis of the religious views of their officers runs against the mission of a university.
Cathy was stating his personal view of gay marriage. He magnified the controversy by extending those views to the company: “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 seemed to double down on those comments despite the controversy and obvious cost of proselytizing to his business: “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,’ and 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.”
Moreno is moving to block permits for a new business in Chicago. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has also vowed to block Chick-Fil-A from entering his city at all.
The suggestion that these cities would block a business because of the content of the religious views of one of its officers offends the principles of free speech and a host of constitutional protections. To the degree that the company violates discrimination laws, it can be punished and fined. In the meantime, the company is likely to loss millions in sales as well as protests from customers offended by Cathy’s comments. Just as Cathy elected to make his views public, customers have the same right. We can leave the outcome to the marketplace to work out.