With Chick-fil-A fight, progressive mayors get their ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ moment

ROBERT MACPHERSON AFP/GETTY IMAGES Protesters hold signs and shout slogans outside a Chick-fil-A food truck in a demonstration organized by … Continued



Protesters hold signs and shout slogans outside a Chick-fil-A food truck in a demonstration organized by the Human Rights Campaign in Washington on July 26, 2012 after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy came out against marriage equality in the United States.

As pro-gay marriage mayors roll out the unwelcome mat for fast food chain Chick-fil-A, they’re also laying down a principle with ominous implications for faith groups and the needy populations they serve in America’s big cities.

This week, mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco warned Chick-fil-A and its CEO Dan Cathy, who’s been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, not to pursue new franchises in their cities. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he shares his fellow mayors’ concerns and would consider trying to block the chain as well.

“Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away,” tweeted San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee on July 26, “& I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”

This principled position sends a not-so-subtle signal to America’s largest and fastest growing faith groups, which overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage: you’re not welcome here, either. That’s bad news not only for religious freedom, but also for legions of new immigrants, single mothers and homeless people who depend on religious outreach to help them meet basic needs.

The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, opposes gay marriage. It also operates Catholic Charities, the largest private social service provider in the country. As a matter of faith, Catholics aim to grow their ranks, help more people in need and add new parishes over time. They strive to grow their enterprises in big cities. But as Chick-fil-A found out, mayors will fight efforts as mundane as selling chicken if people at the helm also oppose gay marriage. Why should Catholics or Catholic Charities not be targeted on the same basis?

Others would be impacted, too. America’s fastest-growing faith groups, including Assemblies of God, non-denominational evangelicals and Mormons, by and large do not support same-sex marriage. If the principle used against Chick-fil-A is applied consistently, these groups – as well as all but the most liberal of synagogues and mosques – will face uphill battles to get permits to open houses of worship, shelters or soup kitchens in big cities.

The mayoral decrees are making for some strange political bedfellows. The Illinois office of the American Civil Liberties Union sees in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s move to block Chick-fil-A a “constitutional problem with discriminating against someone based on the content of their speech.” The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), hardly a natural ally of the ACLU, couldn’t agree more.

“If Chick-fil-A is not welcome for embracing traditional marriage, then are Chicago Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and others saying that evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons aren’t welcome either?,” said NAE President Leith Anderson in a July 30 statement.

Mayors have circumscribed their remarks thus far and targeted only one national chain, whose conservative Christian CEO has become a villainous figure for many in their constituencies. Yet by invoking a broad new principle, they’re creating an uphill battle for themselves, too, as they try to apply it coherently.

Take Boston. Mayor Tom Menino says Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong (as proposed) near Boston’s Freedom Trail, which showcases sites that influenced the War of Independence and the abolitionist anti-slavery movement.

“There’s no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail,” Menino wrote to Cathy in a July 20 letter, “and no place for your company alongside it.”

But the Freedom Trail actually includes Park Street Church, which in 2009 hosted an Exodus International conference, at which local leaders were coached in how to discourage same-sex relationships. Alongside the Freedom Trail sits Tremont Temple Baptist Church, an African American church that has hosted rallies to oppose same-sex marriage.

The situation begs a question: will Park Street Church face city resistance when it tries to plant new churches or expand its outreach ministries, such as its weekly meals for Boston’s homeless or English as a Second Language classes? How many other faiths will be banned in Boston or blocked when they try to expand there?

Unfolding is a progressive parallel to the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy that riled up conservatives in 2010. When the Park51 mosque was proposed, conservatives debated whether a Muslim center near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks would inherently disrespect the site by its sheer presence. For mosque opponents, the World Trade Center site is hallowed ground and would be tainted if certain religious ideas were to garner institutionalized expression nearby.

Now it’s progressives’ turn to exercise the same principle, even though they vehemently opposed its usage in the Park51 case. The idea holds that certain places, which are de facto “sacred” by their associations with bigger-than-life events, would be corrupted if an unpopular religious viewpoint were granted a symbolic presence there. Chick-fil-A is such a symbol, as was Park51. Zealots of all stripes will have none of it.

What’s different this time is how mayors have embraced what was previously regarded as a dangerous stance. In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg brushed aside conservative angst and sided with Park51 on the grounds that barring unpopular religious expression would violate a core American value. On July 27, Bloomberg called his fellow mayors “wrong” for trying to block Chick-fil-A.

Now progressive mayors are showing none of Bloomberg’s confidence in that American value or in freedom of expression. They are instead insisting that unpopular religious views must be kept out, lest what is sacred in their cities – namely the cause of gay rights and same-sex marriage – be threatened or defiled by detractors.

These pro-gay marriage mayors will soon need to decide whether to defend their new principle and all that would mean for social services and religious life in their cities. Or perhaps they’ll just apply it selectively and target, say, Christian businesses from Georgia (where Chick-fil-A is based) and other red states. Either way, they’ll have some explaining to do.

Since making their initial comments, Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have sought to clarify that they do not intend to use city resources to block Chick-fil-A’s permitting efforts on account of CEO Dan Cathy’s political or religious views. They stand by their comments, however, that the stores do not belong in their cities.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a journalist and author of “Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul.”

Related links from On Faith:

Hirschfield: Chicken with a side of controversy

Chat transcript: Is boycotting a company because of its president’s personal views really the way to go?

Thousands flock to Chick-fil-A restaurants

Fast food chain sets off national debate

Quinn: Don’t boycott. Infiltrate.

Reflection in verse on faith, food and fowl

  • BERNIE41

    Does anyone believe these mayors would ban a Muslim business that practices Sharia law from their cities? You may note that Sharia law prohibits gay marriage and considers women to be second-class citizens. When the government gets involved in banning religious beliefs in the private business community, they are overstepping their authority.

  • jonmiller1

    I didn’t realize Chick-Fil-A was a house of worship. Racists used ‘religious values’ to justify discrimination against black people, too. Their freedom of religion didn’t outweigh others’ civil rights then, and it doesn’t trump it now.

  • rkkjr

    As I understand it Chic Filet specifically is using corporate profits to support anti-gay marriage endeavors. This is completely different than an organization or religion having principles that although on paper discriminate actively using their collection plates and saying this weeks collections support anti gay initiative x. The equivalence is Amazon’s CEO stating he is giving millions to support gay rights.
    The mayors’ position is that we will NOT encourage companies that actively work to hurt their constituencies! The Roman Catholic Church although it definitely has its issues with gay rights does charitable work and essentially turns the other way and allows gay members to meet and practice their religion within the umbrella of the Catholic Church.
    Companies like Chic Filet are dangerous because they have money and are using their profits to promote hate and discrimination. This is why we should not support them nor should they be encouraged to open new outlets where additional monies will be channeled against rights for gay men and women and basically for any non-mainstream beliefs.
    I find it interesting driving into Florida I am welcomed first by a huge sign for Rick Scott followed by endless billboards for Chix Filet. End of Argument.

  • corco02az

    Why are you calling these mayors “progressive”?

    They’re nothing of the kind.

    They are in fact reactionaries. Practically by definition in that they simply “react” and don’t take 5 seconds to think about the implications of what they’re about to say.

    (Which is why their offices have to quickly come out with “clarifications” so they don’t get sued into bankruptcy)

  • RolandDay

    August 2, 2012

    One wonders what the leftist mayors are saying today, after yesterday’s nationwide demonstration by the public in support of Chick-fil-A. A few left wing mayors do not define America.

  • Pete_from_nyc

    The mayors are right: Chick-Fil-A is bigoted.

    If it were against blacks or interracial marriage, it should be obvious that such bigotry should be called out.

    There are bigots today that still think that private firms can discriminate (e.g. Rand Paul), by not serving blacks at a “public restaurant”. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made such conduct illegal, and only few people nowadays suggest that bigotry is okay against Blacks. However, many people do not mind when bigotry extends to gays. It’s quite sad.

  • graydon_stephenson

    One morally responsible position is to oppose same gender marriage.

  • AnonPoster

    “In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg brushed aside conservative angst and sided with Park51 on the grounds that barring unpopular religious expression would violate a core American value. On July 27, Bloomberg called his fellow mayors “wrong” for trying to block Chick-fil-A.

    Now progressive mayors are showing none of Bloomberg’s confidence in that American value or in freedom of expression.”

    Once again, the issue of gay citizens being able to become married and enjoy all of the legal and statutory rights and obligations involved IS NOT ABOUT restricting religious or any other type of expression.

    It is about ensuring ALL American citizens are allowed access to the same legal rights, protections, and obligations equally. Religious entities should always be allowed to have whatever views they want about homosexuality. But when those views are used as the reasoning why some American citizens should be deprived of the same civil and legal rights as others, you discover why our Founding Fathers rightly established the separation between “Church” and “State.”

    Just because a religion believes it is Ok to treat gay people as “less than” others (a strange concept for another discussion) DOES NOT mean it is Ok that a gay person is forced to pay taxes at the Single (read: highest) rates their entire life.

  • graydon_stephenson

    Ethnicity and homosexuality have almost nothing in common.

  • graydon_stephenson

    Homosexuality and same sex marriage are not civil rights, human rights, or protected behaviors. This claim assumes what it attempts to prove.

  • richard36

    It’s all about the freedom of speech. Socialist and communists hate it and want to suppress it.

  • Senjata


  • tucsoncaller

    I had dinner last night at a local Chick Fil A. Took an hour standing in a calm, friendly, cheerful line to get served by efficient, friendly, hard working employees. Those mayors that oppose them are part of the problem and have no solutions. If you don’t like their stand, don’t eat there; but none of those mayors can block their doing legitament business and should welcome them into their cities.

  • graydon_stephenson

    Suppose that all men are created equal. Suppose this means that all men may marry the same gender. Does this mean that all men are created equal to do anything? Is this the meaning of equal creation?

    Then adults may marry youths, close relatives, multiple people, shoes, aliens, robots, themselves, or a billy goat.

    If you answer that they may not for moral reasons, then this leads us back to the original question.

  • concernedAMERICAN

    ALL of these Mayors should be sued or better yet, charged, tried, convicted and the proper punishment applied to each of them. They don’t even know the law. What they are doing is ILLEGAL. But, they are typical of our government, they don’t know or don’t care about Legal. JERKS, ALL of them and it starts with the little PUNK MUSLIM president you have in the White House at this time. It is long overdue time that WE let barry know, ‘THE JIG IS UP”. WE have to VOTE him OUT in November, along with ALL of his clowns. AND,,They are all jerks, crooks and criminals. Concerned AMERICAN, Larry VELASCO

  • larryclyons

    So lets see if I understand this, you are saying that because some people depend on religious charities who happen to be against same sex marriage, it OK to discriminate agains one minority.

    When did we start putting for sale signs on our civil rights?

  • larryclyons

    You wouldn’t know a socialist or a communist if Joe Zuken snuck up behind you and gave you a wedgie.

    BTW Joe Zuken was the longest serving communist politician in North America.

  • larryclyons

    intelligence and graydon have almost nothing in common.

  • larryclyons

    You type the same things over and over again.

    Do you ever have an original thought on this or for that matter any other issue?

  • larryclyons

    Reactionary. Love the way the reich wingnuts twist the English language. George Orwell and the characters in his 1984 would be so proud.

  • larryclyons

    Again the stupid sharia law fantasy. Tell me do any of you reich wingnuts ever have an original thought?

    You start with a really stupid assumption. Assume its true then start digging into the morass of the Big Lie.

    What’s next the blood libel?

  • edbyronadams

    Ah, San Francisco, famous for its tolerance, exceptions made for tolerating different political views.