After Chick-Fil-A President and COO voiced his views on marriage, conservatives and liberals across the nation reacted with strong opinions. But whether you agree or disagree, the larger issue here is free speech.
SEATTLE — With the Washington State primary behind us, the countdown towards Election Day begins in earnest, accompanied by a requisite increase in heated rhetoric and spin. Here, as well as in Maryland, Maine and Minnesota, voters will weigh in on same-sex marriage at the ballot box. It seems like everyone from President Obama to my mother-in-law are thinking about this issue.
Exhibit A: last month’s announcement by Dan Cathy, President and Chief Operating Officer of Chick-Fil-A, which made headlines as far away as South Korea.
Let’s revisit his words and discuss them for a minute.
In an interview with The Baptist Press in mid-July, Cathy said that Chick-Fil-A was “guilty as charged” when it came to endorsing a “biblical” view of marriage and the “traditional family.”
Several days later, Cathy clarified that on marriage and parenthood, “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.”
What happened next stoked the fires on both sides of the divide on same-sex marriage.
Former Arkansas governor and current radio talk show host Mike Huckabee organized an day of supportfor Chick-Fil-A on August 1. This effort was supported by evangelical pastors around the South, and Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day drew “unprecedented” sales, according to the company.
Not long after, gay rights advocates staged a competing Chick-Fil-A kiss-in campaign across the country. And the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco put Cathy on notice that his company was not welcome in their cities.
But these mayors quickly — and appropriately, I’d say — backpedaled. Say what?, my liberal friends might be asking about me, a fellow liberal. Appropriately backpedaled? Yes. Here’s why.
Free Speech. It’s the core of this controversy. Cathy instantly drew the ire of pundits, commentators, politicians and just about everyone else on the left. I agree: I find his views divorced from my reality. I am an openly LGBT man who hailed from Atlanta, headquarters of Chick-Fil-A, before moving to the Emerald City. My partner (also from the South) and I have been in a committed relationship for 27 years. However, I share with many conservatives the view that our Constitution should be our compass for moral direction. And in an era where messages are often not clear and less often true, Cathy is not only exercising his right of free speech but clearly putting his religious beliefs front and center. Like those views or not, exercising free speech is as American as apple pie.
Free Enterprise. It’s a fundamental American philosophy. Can any elected official ban (or threaten to ban) an American business’ right to expand into new markets? Like many conservatives, I believe that our country’s success is built on one’s ability to build a business and reap the fruits of that labor. When the three mayors issued their threat to Cathy, it made me shudder. As long as Chick-Fil-A does not discriminate, either in employment practices or with customers, we must let the market decide how successful Chick-Fil-A will be–in Dallas and Atlanta or in Boston or Chicago or San Francisco.
Chick-Fil-A. It’s a Southern icon and America’s Number 2 quick-service chicken restaurant. With loyal customer support, Chick-Fil-A operates today on principles that date to the company’s founding in 1946. For example, Chick-Fil-A is still closed on Sundays. Cathy puts his beliefs before profit, yet his profits grew 13% in 2011.
We can agree or disagree with Dan Cathy.
But we should not deny Cathy and his privately-held company the opportunity to exercise his right of free speech, and we should respect his role as a successful American enterprise.