There’s one part of Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s recent remarks that the left seems especially intent on disproving: the part where he said,
… we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.
The rest of Cathy’s comments, if you haven’t already heard, concerned his opinion of the propriety of gay marriage from a biblical perspective. As retribution for his voicing this opinion, some liberals in Chicago and Boston want to deny Cathy and his company the right to operate in their cities.
This is disturbing on a number of levels, two in particular.
The first is the idea that local governments might deny a business license to a company because of the beliefs of its owners. In Chicago, Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno threatened to do just that in his ward. (The city’s mayor, former Obama aide Rahm Emanuel, was more oblique, voicing sympathy with Moreno’s perspective but saying only that a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Chicago “would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”)
As Elizabeth Scalia notes, this is how fascism works. As the far-from-right-wing Boston Globe editorialized, in response to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s statement that “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston” and that the company shouldn’t be allowed to open a store near famed Faneuil Hall along the city’s — first irony alert! — Freedom Trail:
… which part of the First Amendment does Menino not understand? A business owner’s political or religious beliefs should not be a test for the worthiness of his or her application for a business license. … If the mayor of a conservative town tried to keep out gay-friendly Starbucks or Apple, it would be an outrage.
The second is the way Menino and Moreno are twisting the definition of the word “discrimination” to apply it to Cathy’s objection to — second irony alert! — the redefinition of the word “marriage” to apply to same-sex couples.
“You can’t have a business in the City of Boston that discriminates against a population,” Menino told the Boston Herald to explain his desire to keep Chick-fil-A out of his city.
“If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward,” Moreno told the Chicago Tribune.
But I have yet to see the first shred of evidence Chick-fil-A is actually discriminating against gay couples. Menino and Moreno cited no reports that same-sex couples in a Chick-fil-A restaurant have been denied service or asked to leave, nor any instances of gay employees or job applicants being dismissed due to their sexual orientation. This is hardly comparable to a Southern lunch counter turning away black customers half a century ago.
Nor could anyone accurately describe Cathy or Chick-fil-A as influential political agitators who are enabling some sort of “discrimination.” While much was made back in March of the company’s donations to groups that promote the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the company is practically silent in terms of donations to politicians and political organizations. According to the Sunlight Foundation, the sum total of all political donations by the company, its employees and its PAC, between 1989 and 2012, was just $177,410 — about $7,400 a year. And even this meager spending does not appear to have been tied to the issue of gay marriage.
If a mere difference of opinion with elected officials is enough to qualify as “discrimination,” then in some way or another virtually every employer would be, as Cathy put it in the interview that sparked this episode, guilty as charged. Civil society itself would be fractured irretrievably. As Scalia asked,
… where does the “punishment” spiral stop? The press declares Chick-fil-A “homophobic” (a dishonest word) and then the local governments start penalizing them for it; Jim Henson’s outfit stomps off. What next? Will people against gay marriage start boycotting Muppet stuff? Pyres of Elmo in support of Chick-fil-A’s right to be itself?
We’re already seeing a preliminary version of this: Activists are encouraging same-sex couples to visit Chick-fil-A stores next Friday for a “National Same-Sex Kiss Day”; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is encouraging fellow social conservatives to “buycott” the company by patronizing its restaurants en masse next Wednesday.
Does anyone see this thing headed toward reconciliation?
The idea at the foundation of our freedom of speech is often said to have been summarized by the French philosopher Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s a long way from Voltaire’s France to Menino’s Boston and Moreno’s Chicago, and the direction is a very disheartening one.
– By Kyle Wingfield