Somewhat against our better judgment: a Chick-fil-A story

Richard Allen Greene of CNN reports:

Billy Graham, the dean of American evangelists, has once again broken his usual silence on hot-button issues, defending the president of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain for his opposition to same-sex marriage days after issuing a letter decrying what he sees as the nation’s moral decay. …

On Thursday, he issued a statement of support for the popular fast-food chain. Many people have slammed Chick-fil-A President Don Cathy for saying his company backs the traditional family unit and is opposed to same-sex marriage.

Graham praised restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy and son Don Cathy, the company’s president, “for their strong stand for the Christian faith.”


His open letter also contains a fund-raising appeal and a notice that Graham’s son Franklin, himself a major evangelical figure, is launching a new effort to “bring the Gospel into neighborhoods and homes in every corner of America next year.”

Randall Balmer, the chair of the religion department at Dartmouth College, suspects the motivation for the letter is at least partly political.

“It’s hard for me to believe that this letter does not have political intent,” he said.

Its move to decry what he would see as moral decay “would be tied to the Obama administration,” he argued, asking rhetorically why Graham would not have issued the statement in response to an event like the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

Who can helps us parse the Chick-fil-A situation? If I had ever eaten there, I’d stop eating there. But I don’t know that I’d feel the need to try to drive them out of business. Although I understand the desire to make sure people knew the politics of the place. So rather than my saying five or six more equivocal things, maybe someone else would like to chime in with a strong opinion.

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  1. I’m conflicted about the whole thing.

    As a liberal and a Christian, I am strongly in support of gay marriage.

    On the other hand, as an American, I’m strongly in support of fried chicken.

  2. A Facebook User

    Could it be that Billy Graham simply wants to stir up some attention and money for his son’s next gigantic evangelism effort/business. There is obviously big money to be had pushing hot buttons. Billy has proven himself an opportunist in the past… Who cares what damage it might do to others; it’s for the Gospel, don’t you know.

    Tom Downs

  3. I’m kind of with Rachel Held Evans on this one:

    I’m perfectly fine with people not patronizing Chick-Fil-A because of the groups and causes that they fund. Everyone has a right to spend their (God’s?) money as they see fit. However, when the mayors of Boston and San Francisco start erecting rhetorical fences around their cities which bar Chick-Fil-A from locating there, I think we’ve gone too far. As Rachel Held Evans points out, what is to prevent the mayor of a more conservative town from barring a mosque or even a JCPenny or Target store because of their support of LGBT rights?

    I think when we enlist government in the culture wars firefight, more often then not we get burned.

  4. Priscilla Cardinale

    After reading this article from Forbes magazine (2007) I am not the least bit conflicted. I like Chik-Fil-A sandwiches and have eaten them many times in the past.

    But I cannot, in good conscience, patronize a business that actively discriminates against employees who don’t prescribe to their peculiar religious beliefs.

    I would not patronize a business that discriminated against employees based upon my own religious beliefs either. Discrimination is wrong. Period.

    Having said that, I disagree with the politicians who are grandstanding on this issue and feel that they are just using the country’s newfound distaste for anti-LBBTQ discrimination as a political boost.

    Like it or not, when you eat at Chik-Fil-A nowadays, you are making a political and social statement of agreement with the CEO and his religious beliefs. That was his doing.

    I see nothing wrong with letting everyone know just what he said and what he practices in his company since he started this and I think that he and his company are perfectly happy to keep away customers whose religious and social beliefs differ. That’s a novel marketing idea and certainly creates a very limited customer niche, doesn’t it?

  5. tgflux

    “On Thursday, he issued a statement of support”

    Consider Billy Graham’s ill-health seclusion of the past few years, if I don’t hear something IN HIS VOICE, then I reserve judgment. It may be his (far more wingnuttier) children pulling the strings.

    JC Fisher

    (Prayers for his health, BTW. Regardless of his beliefs re homophobic chicken)

  6. Do you have any actual proof that Chick-fil-A ever refused to hire a homosexual or sell a homosexual a sandwich? Unless you have such proof, kindly hold the “discrimination” blast unless it’s now “discrimination” to express an opinion that differs from your own.

    For my part, I intend to eat at Chick-fil-A a lot more often. Because I hate teh gheys? I don’t hate anybody. But unlike a great many leftists, I do actually respect the First Amendment.

  7. Bill Dilworth

    I have not eaten anything from Chik-Fil-A since the 80s (mostly because I don’t hang out at malls), so I was boycotting them before it was cool…

    In a day and age when most of the things we buy seem to come from China, and many companies are owned by multinationals whose politics wouldn’t pass any progressive’s standards, I don’t know if boycotting individual companies makes much sense. Instead, I always pick a local merchant/product when given the chance, pretty much regardless of where they stand politically. End result: money directed into my own community, less money for folks like Chik-Fil-A.

  8. Bill Dilworth

    Pssst – Christopher! The “discrimination” bit refers to the discriminatory marriage policies Chik-Fil-A supports. So whether they are discriminating against “homosexuals” (really? Sheesh!) by refusing us their tasty deep-fried goodies or not doesn’t really enter into it.

    I also point out that the First Amendment stricture against supressing free speech applies to the government, not consumers. And the fact that free speech is protected from government suppression in no way means that your speech is free of consequences. I may have the right to say that people from Ruritania smell bad and marry their siblings, but it doesn’t mean that the Ruritanian-American community has to buy the delicious petit-fours I sell.

  9. Yo, Bill. Government action, specifically the intent to withhold zoning approval of a business simply because of what the owner of that business believes, is precisely the issue here.

    Whether or not you eat there is immaterial. But if some city withholds zoning approval for a Starbucks or some state refuses to exempt from online sales taxes because of their liberal stances on gay marriage, you have no right to whine about “discrimination.”

  10. fathergj

    It seems to me that we are conflating two issues: the personal donations of businesses and the actions of public officials to actively work against businesses whose actual business has nothing morally objectionable (serving chicken sandwhiches).

    We need to make sure that we address each of these issues separately. First, do politicisians have the right to work against any of these businesses whose means of making money are not objectionable? I could see opposition if the means of making money were objectionable: prostitution, adult “entertainment,” alcohol distribution, etc. However, here we are talking about food that is approved by the FDA. I don’t see any problem here and politicians should not use their position to oppose this type of business.

    Second, should buisnesses be allowed to make donations to these types of causes. If we say yes, then the only real opposition we should have is a personal boycot of these various businesses, which people have been doing for decades. If businesses should not be allowed to make donations to causes, then we need to pass laws.

    Ultimately, I think the two mayors know that they are not going to be successful legally, but what frightens me is that we are now goign to be able to discriminate against ideas. This should be very frightening to all Americans and especially people of faith, when we live in a society that does not see God as the Truth or even A truth among others. God has been relegated to an idea and that is a dangerous place to go.

    {Editor’s note: Thanks for the comment. Please leave us your name next time.]

  11. Bill Dilworth

    “Government action, specifically the intent to withhold zoning approval of a business simply because of what the owner of that business believes, is precisely the issue here.”

    And that’s why you didn’t address it at all in your first comment, choosing instead to scold a commenter who also didn’t address it? Huh.

    Whether or not some alderman in Chicago threatens to deny zoning for a Chick-Fil-A or not has absolutely nothing to do with whether claims of discrimination against Don Cathy are legitimate, or whether consumers are right in taking action against against his company.

    By all means, eat at CFA three times a day. Have them cater your personal affairs: weddings, confirmations, wakes. Eat fried chicken “not …one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you.” But don’t pretend that it has anything to do with the First Amendment.

    BTW, for an interesting analysis of where all this selective zoning started, read

  12. Benedict Varnum

    To help clarify (before muddying things further), the argument being made by politicians is that their CONSTITUENTS wouldn’t want the business there, and they are therefore representing them. E.g., the Chicago alderman who’s trying to fight a second Chicago chik-fil-a in his ward.

    What I find troubling about that is that it stands on the notion that the purpose of an elected official is to enforce majority views against minority rights. That is wrong and, dare I say, un-American.

    I’m a supporter of marriage equality, and especially in the political sphere, where the issue seems far-and-away clearer (it really IS absurd to put an ICU floor nurse in the position of saying, “I’m sorry, but this state doesn’t recognize this patient’s decision to spend the last decade of her life with you, so her estranged father who kicked her out of the house twelve years ago for coming out will be making her medical decisions.”)

    But I don’t believe the role of government is to adjudicate all things on behalf of whomever can put together a larger majority for a given election cycle. Every public servant could stand to commit to some principles that go beyond a 51% majority or the money that will keep them in office for another round so that maybe they can take one or two stands on things they or their constituents are deeply committed to.

  13. Priscilla Cardinale

    Sorry, I forgot to include the link in my post. Indeed, Chik-Fil-A does discriminate in its hiring policies:

    As a privately-owned company they are free so to do however employees are also free to sue them for violating employment laws and indeed there are several suits against them. The founder, as quoted in the article, said he would indeed fire anyone who engaged in “sinful” practices.

    The Constitutional guarantee of Free Speech does preclude government from discriminating based upon personal speech. It has absolutely nothing to do with consumers making informed choices about how they spend their own money however.

    Render unto Chik-Fil-A that which belongs to them and I will use my earnings to support businesses that reflect my personal ethics. Fair enough?

  14. Let me get this straight. You don’t have to refuse to hire someone or refuse to sell them a sandwich to “discriminate” against them. You merely have to hold a different opinion than they do. And denying a permit to a business simply because of what the president of that company believes is actually not a violation of the First Amendment at all.

    Congratulations on turning the English language into meaningless sludge. Or deciding that words mean whatever the cause of the month needs for them to mean.

    As for eating at Chick-fil-A, don’t worry about that. Ate there for the first time a few days ago and I intend to eat there a lot more often. They make an incredible chicken sandwich.

  15. Priscilla Cardinale

    Christopher, I’m not going to engage in a conservative vs. liberal battle with you. I looked at your website and we are on opposite poles of the political spectrum. No problem there.

    But yes, in any dictionary, discrimination is refusing to hire or serve someone based upon their status, even if that includes your personally held religious and political beliefs. Chik-Fil-A is proud of their discriminatory hiring practices and how they weed out the “wrong” kind of people. They are not ashamed about it so your outrage is misplaced.

    Every single person posting here has said they disagree with government preventing Chik-Fil-A from opening a store so whom are you arguing with?

    Boycotts are all the rage in conservative politics now, right? Concerned Women and the Family Values crowd are boycotting Target, JC Penney, Amazon, and a host of other businesses that support LGBTQ equality. Is boycotting only OK for you guys? Thought not. . . .

  16. Roger Mortimer

    Actually, they make a bland, boring chicken sandwich, Christopher, but if you find it “incredible”, that’s your call. Don’t quite see why this business suddenly became a major hot-button issue; their anti-gay prejudice has been common knowledge for years. Folks might take a look at Domino’s Pizza while they’re boycotting Chick-fil-a.

  17. C. Wingate

    Priscilla, judging from the first page of Google results it seems as though everyone from James Dobson to Move-On was calling for boycotts of Target the past few years. And I’m sure that boycotting this, that, or the other can do wonders for one’s feeling of personal justification. But I decided, I dunno, thirty years ago that I wasn’t going to get involved in this kind of stuff, back when I was getting sandwiches at the UMCP food coop in spite of their asinine leftist politics. I decided that being tolerant was better for my soul than ineffectual gestures which mostly fed my self-righteousness.

  18. Priscilla Cardinale

    C. Wingate, I guess self-righteousness is in the eye of the beholder. Me, I am very comfortable knowing that I don’t give my money to people who will take a percentage of that money to fund programs that seek to destroy me, my family, my friends or even people I don’t know or who may be different from me, you know, the “least of these”.

    I suppose it would be easy to be more pragmatic and solipsistic and believe that nothing I do matters and therefore I can go on ignoring the suffering of others and call it toleration. Not the kind of thing my soul needs or wants though. To each their own . . . .

  19. It really is amazing – we keep being told that a millionaire who sends huge contributions to organizations specifically devoted to actually undoing efforts at secular legal protections and privileges is merely exercising his right to free expression, while, elsewhere, those who publicly call for a voluntary boycott and express their disgust with his proud bigotry are somehow these dreadful fascists and horrible people who deny first amendment rights by not giving their money to someone who will turn around and give said money to people who will then hurt the people who are supposed to pay for that bland, overpriced product that can be made more cheaply and tastily at home.

    Talk about trying to change meanings and twist rights! But that’s the conservative understanding of “rights,” yes? To be able (if a conservative) to do anything you like without consequence. And what “rights” are being infringed? First of all, conservatives tend to target people rather than businesses, trying to keep individuals out of their community, so we kind of already have had to take that garbage, thanks. Secondly, since when did cities allow any and every sort of business in that wanted it? If a city, through its elected officials, decides that a business is not wanted, they have every right and responsibility to keep it out. Strip clubs, bars, gambling establishments, head shops, all can be kept out for their “beliefs,” if you like, and Chik-fil-A can be, too.

    Grow up and take the consequences of your bigoted actions, okay?

    – Mark Brunson

  20. C. Wingate

    Mark, your analogy with strip clubs is strained beyond plausibility. It is not their beliefs that is the problem with bars clubs; it is the business that they do, and while it might be argued that there are spots where fast food joints are multiplied beyond what is healthy to the neighborhood, you don’t seriously object to the selling of sandwiches. And indeed I am inclined to suspect that you would accept the political alliance of strip clubs and bars and sex shops if they are willing to get behind your political aims in this, regardless of any lack of other sexual ethics they may hold to.

    And as for the “bland, overpriced product that can be made more cheaply and tastily at home,” I don’t keep a deep-fat fryer, so I can’t make it at home at all, and I suspect you are in the same culinary boat. I can make a much better burger at home than either McD’s or BK, and for considerably less, but that’s not necessarily the point of going to either, is it? Besides, in “bland” I hear the dog whistle tweeting a message of snobbery against all those lower class white evangelical bigots who don’t happen to have developed a taste for Indian or Thai food. I love both, but lots of people don’t, and I don’t hold it against them.

    And Priscilla, when you say they want to “destroy” you, I don’t believe that. But I do believe you want to destroy their business, and I don’t think you can. I see from the admirably restrained and accurate AP report that there’s one CFA in NYC, none in Boston, one or two in DC, and one or two in the Chicago area; it’s going to be very hard for anyone at EDS to boycott them. I personally cannot boycott them because it always seems to be either Sunday or not mealtime when I am presented with CFA as a option. But it also seems to me that the willingness of the mayors to step in to this signals something of an admission that only governmental power is adequate to prevail. And beyond that, Cathy has his millions, and Bezos has his tens of billions; neither side lacks for money to buy the outcome they want. Nor do they lack for proponents. I see from the industry reports that CFA is expanding rapidly, so apparently they do not need my business to thrive.

  21. Benedict Varnum

    Here’s a less-personally-attacking contribution; this article below notes that a church is being charged with a crime for the first time.

    Tabling for a second whether it was a poorly-thought-through notion or done in bad taste (it was both), some of the writing dares to toe the line: is suing a church that stages a kidnapping “impeding the free exercise of religion?”

  22. IT

    I firmly support the right of Chick-Fil-A to run their business as they see fit. I find it a dangerous step for any politician to threaten to deny a legitimate business a permit on the basis of their owner’s politics. Shame on Mayor Menino.

    On the other hand, I firmly support the right of anyone to choose where to spend their money. If Chick-Fil-A’s politics means that a broad swath of folks in Boston will not patronize their establishment and so they lose money, so be it. That’s the free market in action. I certainly am not going to give my money to a firm that is actively working against my rights. @Christopher Johnson wants to support such a firm. That’s his right.

    The other side does the same thing all the time– witness most recently, NOM and their “Dump Starbucks” campaign.

    Starbucks and many other firms have realized that supporting Equality is good for business. Chick-Fil-A’s owner may discover that working against gay people isn’t so good. On the other hand, there may be enough people who want to express their agreement with their anti-gay perspective, that they do fine. Be that as it may. Regardless, no chkn in my future.

    Susan Forsburg


    You find it strained, because it suits you to do so. Deep fat fryer? No. Do have one, though. You can get them for about $30, you know. You can use a pressure cooker, or, if you don’t have one, pan fry. I can get you the recipe if you like.

    If I find Chik-fil-A morally threatening to my community, it is the same as the strip club. So, your point there is moot. Chik-fil-A’s support of militant anti-gay organizations does harm to citizenry. It is immoral to support them. That’s all.

    And lower class – boy, I don’t know who you think you’re talking to. I come from the same region as Don Cathy, and he doesn’t even make a good piece of fried chicken because they’re a bunch of city men from Atlanta. Your little reverse snobbery is moot, too, get it? Now I haven’t personally attacked anyone here, but next time you want to make one of your little (very little) insight attacks on someone, you might want to know to whom you are speaking. It might also interest you to find out that the whole good ol’ middle-class working-man conglomeration does not necessarily share your views, any more than they all share mine! How dare you presume to know me? Lack of ethics? You should be ashamed, and I expect an apology if you have any – any – ethical backbone of your own. But don’t you ever presume to know what I would back or wouldn’t. If I wanted to tell you personally that I thought you were bigoted, cowardly and childish I would’ve said it to you, so don’t you think you can come back attacking me with snide little jibes. It’s about a hundred years to soon for you to think you can get away with that without a public hiding.

    – Mark Brunson

  24. C. Wingate

    Mark, you’re sneering at them, and you’re sneering at me. I go to fast food for the speed, not the food, so whatever your southern food credentials may be, they’re wasted here. If we could ban restaurants for serving lackluster food, the signs on the interstates would have a lot fewer places to direct us to; but while there are Episcopalians who would hold that bad cooking is sinful (“paging Fr. Capon”) there are plenty of offenders which appear to have escaped your wrath.

    The chicken is not the point. Your absurd claim about the moral peril of the place it’s sold is the point. They are no more perilous than any other employer who doesn’t treat their people well, and there are plenty of those.

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