Updated 3:05 p.m.
Chicago Republican Party leaders filed a complaint with Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Illinois Department of Human Rights Wednesday, alleging that Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno violated provisions of the state’s Human Rights Act and the First Amendment, when he said he would block Chick-fil-A from opening its second Chicago location in his ward.
The complaint comes as both supporters and opponents of the restaurant chain hold several events in “appreciation” and opposition, respectively.
“Not only has he used his power over zoning to punish someone with whom he disagrees politically,” said Chris Cleveland, vice chairman of the Chicago Republican Party Wednesday during a press conference at City Hall. “He has used government power to engage in overt religious discrimination against a person who merely expressed a sincerely held religious belief.”
Cleveland and the local GOP contend that his statements in the press and his denial of zoning permits to the increasingly under-fire chain violated the state’s human rights provisions.
“We are standing up for the minority in Chicago of business owners that face this every day,” said Cleveland. “This happens all the time, but this was such an egregious example that we had to stand up and say something.”
Moreno issued a brief statement hours after the complaint was filed: “They are inaccurate and we will not back down in fighting for equal rights,” he said, but wouldn’t comment on any of the specifics.
In addition, the GOP said that Moreno’s move is another instance of Chicago Democrat politicians exerting their power against their enemies.
“The Chicago Democratic Machine has long abused power, using government funds and rule-making powers to hammer political opponents,” Cleveland said. “It’s illegal, but often difficult to prove.”
They also accused Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who initially supported the alderman’s decision, but backtracked in more recent statements, of pandering to their constituent voters for support. However, when asked if the GOP was doing the same thing, Chicago Republican Party Chairman Adam Robinson said that he disagrees with such an interpretation.
Last week, Moreno (1st Ward) made headlines when he announced that he would block Chick-fil-A’s plans to open a standalone restaurant in the 2500 block of North Elston Avenue next to the Home Depot in Logan Square. His decision came after months of unsuccessful talks with executives at the company regarding their policies and Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s confirmation two weeks ago that he was “guilty as charged” for opposing anything other than the marriage between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible.
“We decided not to give our support to a company that has views that we personally find repugnant and what we think the majority of our constituents also find repugnant,” said 1st Ward Director of Legislative Affairs & Communications Matthew Bailey, on behalf of the alderman last week. “We feel like we have to take a stand and it would go against our principles if we didn’t take this position.”
Murmurs of the GOP taking legal action emerged shortly after the news broke last week, and they have now confirmed that their legal counsel is studying the matter. It is possible that Moreno violated federal law, Cleveland added.
Specifically, the complaint asks Madigan to investigate “abuses of power” and “overt religious discrimination.” It cites several statements Moreno made in local media, in which he vowed to deny zoning permits and any other city requirements to anyone seeking to open a franchise of the restaurant in his ward. The complaint also questions Moreno’s claims that the company has engaged in discriminatory practices.
“Alderman Moreno further makes clear this his discriminatory behavior is not based on actual policy of Chick-fil-A,” states the complaint. “Alderman Moreno claims that his religious discrimination is in retaliation for discriminatory policies of Chick-fil-A, however he has not cited nor even alleged any behavior, policy or action of Chick-fil-A, any franchisee, employee or agent thereof that violates in law of Illinois, Cook County or Chicago.”
Both Moreno and LGBT rights advocates from The Civil Rights Agenda were in talks with Chick-fil-A representatives for nearly nine months in an effort to help the company create diversity and cultural competency training, equal employee benefits that included benefits for couples in civil unions and domestic partnerships, culturally-sensitive advertising in the LGBT community, transgender-inclusive health benefits and rejection of any activities that would undermine equality for LGBT people. Those talks fizzled when Chick-fil-A showed no signs of progress, according to Anthony Martinez, executive director at TCRA.
The conversation completely fell through when the chain’s president reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage. His remarks have led the company to lose its partnership with the The Jim Henson Company and be banned in Boston by Mayor Thomas Menino.
Martinez said that while Chick-fil-A has a First Amendment right to free speech — and that TCRA vehemently supports it — the issues at play in this case are not First Amendment issues.
“They are issues of illegal discrimination in public accommodation,” Martinez said. “The Illinois Human Rights Act makes it illegal for restaurants and other public accommodations, such as Chick-fil-A, to treat minorities as ‘unwelcome, objectionable or unacceptable.’ Chick-fil-A is to [sic] perpetuating the message that gay and lesbian families are inferior to heterosexual families.”
The Civil Rights Agenda will file its own complaint against the company before this weekend, but details on the specifics of the complaint were not immediately available.
Calls made to two of Moreno’s offices were not returned early Wednesday.
Chicago Phoenix will update this story as it develops.