The campaign against Chick-fil-A may be a more ominous attack on religious freedom than the Affordable Care Act’s mandates. ObamaCare would force millions of Americans to fund actions they find morally reprehensible but leaves them free to denounce it. The chicken inquisition, by contrast, directly targets religious speech itself.
Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy recently dared to describe his views on marriage during a radio program. “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,'” he said. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is about.”
For this, activist organizations are trying to brand Chick-fil-A as “anti-gay” and intimidate other businesspeople into thinking twice before exercising their freedom of speech.
The agitators chose a most improbable villain. Dan Cathy is the son of the 91-year-old founder of the company, S. Truett Cathy. Truett is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who is also a committed Christian. His fast-food chain is famous not only for tasty chicken sandwiches but also for being closed on Sundays. The Cathys don’t think of their company as a “Christian company,” but they have sought to run their business on “biblical principles.” This gives them a special interest in families.
“We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit,” Mr. Cathy explained recently in an interview with the Baptist Press. “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 virtually every culture, marriage is an institution involving a public commitment between a man and a woman. The complementary nature of men and women points to the unique purpose of marriage: to bear and raise children. One can recognize this fact and so conclude that “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron—without being “anti-gay.”
Mr. Cathy and many other Americans see marriage as a sacred institution. As a result, the campaign against Mr. Cathy is not just an attack on speech but on religious speech.
Irresponsible parties have referred to Chick-fil-A’s “discrimination” and “anti-gay policies.” There are no such policies. Gay customers and employees are not tossed out of Chick-fil-A restaurants. Mr. Cathy has expressed no animosity toward gays. He has not even referred to same-sex marriage.
He has simply articulated the historical Christian view of marriage, the same one President Obama endorsed until just a couple of months ago. For that thought crime, Mr. Cathy is now the target of a conspiracy of intimidation.
Most disturbing is the behavior of politicians like Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who have joined the crusade. As soon as the controversy emerged, these officials announced plans to hinder Chick-fil-A from operating or expanding in their fiefdoms (though Mr. Menino seems to have retreated).
Even some on the left have seen this for what it is: an attempt by government officials to punish a company because of the religious views of its president.
In response to the Chicago alderman who said he would prevent Chick-fil-A from expanding in his area, Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, declared that “the government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words. When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.”
Americans are free to eat or not to eat at Chick-fil-A. But we need to push back strongly against attacks on this company. If you’re concerned, we hope you’ll join us and hundreds of thousands of other Americans this week by giving Chick-fil-A your business. Defending freedom of speech never tasted so good.
Mr. Richards, a Roman Catholic, and Mr. Robison, an Evangelical Christian, are co-authors of “Indivisible: Restoring, Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late” (Ignatius Press/FaithWords, 2012).