For the past few months, Chick-fil-A has been plastered all over the media like never before – and I know I’m not the only one tired of talking about chicken. Something tells me Chick-fil-A is tired of talking about marriage equality and discriminatory employment practices. And that is how justice will be served.
This whole Chick-fil-A debate is not about chicken. This is not about violating First Amendment rights. This month’s long media firestorm is about public accountability and discriminatory actions.
When this issue first hit the press back in July, it was because Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno, said he would block a request to alter local zoning to build a Chick-fil-A store in an area of the city he represents. The Alderman cited the company’s long history of giving money to anti-gay causes and lack of LGBT discrimination protections in its corporate policy as reasons for denying a zoning change that will require new city law.
The conflagration of controversy that followed saw individuals and groups on both sides of the political spectrum decrying Alderman Moreno’s actions as somehow un-constitutional. Despite what some would have you believe, what is at the heart of this debate is Chick-fil-A’s deceptive actions and discriminatory behavior; not the constitutional right to believe whatever they want.
The comments of Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy, son of the founder and part of the family which has always run this private company – something that, regardless of our disagreements, is commendable in this corporate age – are bombastic and steeped in disdain for gay folk: ”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.” Cathy came out against marriage equality, a subject on which many people have taken a stand, in either the affirmative or the negative. The problem is that he did so while speaking in an official capacity on behalf of his company.
The anti-gay organizations that Chick-fil-A chooses to fund through its foundation are in-line with its values. Those values also inform its business practices as a “values-based company.” Chick-fil-A is being openly discriminatory toward LGBT people when it gives millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations. That’s not about values. That’s about discriminatory action, and Chick-fil-A has a long history of discriminatory actions.
A former Chick-fil-A restaurant manager in Houston who was Muslim sued Chick-fil-A after he was fired for not participating in a group prayer to Jesus Christ at a company training program. That’s not about values. That’s about discriminatory action.
In Georgia, a woman is suing Chick-fil-A after being fired because the manager thought it would be better for her children if she was a stay at home mother. That’s not about values. That’s about discriminatory action.
We at The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) have been working with Alderman Moreno in Chicago since February to pressure Chick-fil-A to adopt a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as asking them to stop giving to anti-gay organizations. When we publically announced that Chick-fil-A would stop funding anti-gay organizations, we did so because that was the assurance the Alderman received from John Featherston, the Senior Director of Real Estate. We made a public statement about the facts. We did that to hold Chick-fil-A publicly accountable because we knew it was privately delivering the exact same message to other organizations, decision makers, and elected officials.
I think Chick-fil-A lied. They want to have their chicken and eat it too – giving private assurances to the pro-gay folks and then telling their anti-gay supporters that there have been no changes. TCRA had no false predilections of their stance, but by allowing their assurances to become VERY public, this allowed others to look into the validity of their claims, and signaled to those other organizations, decision makers, and elected officials that they better double check before taking Chick-fil-A at their word.
In some respects, Mr. Cathy’s assertion that they did not concede to the Alderman could be true. As Alderman Moreno stated previously, according to the WinShape Foundation documents that the Alderman and others have seen, and the letter from January that came with personal assertions from Mr. Featherston that “not supporting organizations with political agendas” included anti-gay groups, Chick-fil-A ended their anti-gay giving practices last year and started this year anew. So, technically, telling Mr. Huckabee that there has been no change wouldn’t be a lie – just not the whole truth. Either way, Alderman Moreno has said he will not introduce the legislation they need to open their store in Chicago unless Dan Cathy makes a public statement confirming they are no longer giving to anti-gay organizations and that they will not discriminate in violation of established law in Illinois and Chicago.
Free speech and religious liberty is a civil rights issue that I and my organization take very seriously. I would never seek to limit the First Amendment rights of other individuals, because I have had people try to silence my speech in the past. Chick-fil-A has a right to free speech, but we have a right to push back against its discriminatory practices.
Chick-fil-A has an aggressive expansion strategy aimed at urban centers and higher education campuses. Those of us in opposition to Chick-fil-A’s discriminatory practices should make it extremely hard for them to expand. They have shown that they are not good neighbors and we should show them that we don’t want them in our neighborhood. In the end, they will most likely be able to open more stores, because they have big pockets. With that said, if opposition is strong and smart, it will be expensive and arduous for Chick-fil-A to achieve its expansion goals.