The recent controversy surrounding fast food chain Chick-fil-A has raised some interesting First Amendment issues. Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy is a devout Southern Baptist. The company has espoused many positions that fall within a strict, traditional interpretation of the Bible. These include very strong opposition to homosexuality and same sex marriages. This stance has made headlines within the last couple of months. In regards to the issue, Cathy announced “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.”
In response, a number of politicians have come out in opposition to Chick-fil-A. Among them was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who declared “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.” Also weighing in was Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stated “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.” Both Menino and Emanuel strongly urged Chick-fil-A to back out of their plans to open restaurants in their cities, and even contemplated utilizing zoning regulations to block the company.
This controversy has also arisen here in New York City. Council speaker Christine Quinn, a strong advocate of gay rights, started an online petition to ban Chick-fil-A in the Five Boroughs. On the other hand, Mayor Mike Bloomberg took an opposing stance, saying that “You really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit.”
Looking at all this, my first reaction was, admittedly, to jump on the bandwagon with those calling for a ban on Chick-fil-A. I completely disagree with their opposition to same sex marriage, which they have backed up by donating millions of dollars to ultra-conservative political groups. I think that they are a bunch of reactionary bigots, and I would be happy to see them shut down.
But, on second thought, giving it further consideration, I realized that would be completely against the spirit of free speech in this country, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. I seem to recall an expression along the lines that the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect the speech you agree with, but rather the speech you disagree with. And Chic-fil-A’s stance on gay marriage would definitely be a case of that. As disgusting as I find Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A’s positions on homosexuality, they have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to express those views without fear of government censorship. I feel it would be morally wrong, as well as very un-Constitutional, for the government to block Chick-fil-A from setting up shop due to their views.
(Yeah, believe it or not, I’m actually in agreeing with that know-it-all windbag Bloomberg here. Between this and his push for stronger gun control, that now makes two positions I actually see eye-to-eye with the Mayor on. Well, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.)
Besides, if Chick-fil-A was prevented from opening new stores by mayors or city councils that support gay rights, it would set a horrible precedent. If that was allowed then, conversely, local politicians who were opposed to homosexuality could then ban businesses that practiced pro-gay policies.
So, yes, I say Chick-fil-A should be allowed to open in New York, Boston, and Chicago. They must be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights. But, at the same time, I strongly encourage everyone who disagrees with Chick-fil-A to exercise their right to free speech. Speak out against Dan Cathy’s bigotry, and boycott the hell out of that homophobic fast food chain. That’s definitely what I intend to do.