I admire Chick-fil-A. In fact, I positively like it.
I don’t mean to say that I enjoy its food, for I have never tasted it. In my travels I have never encountered the Georgia-based fast food chain, and my general aversion to deep-fried sludge would likely preclude me from patronizing such an establishment in any case.
No, what has smitten me to the poultry-packing corporate giant is its peculiar and rather unique adherence to its founding principles, even at its own expense. Rarely in the United States today does one find a major business that is not interested merely in the bottom line, that fashions itself as a sort of religious missionary, operating under a values system that is genuine and (on a good day) coherent.
For the uninitiated: Chick-fil-A was founded in 1946 by a man named S. Truett Cathy, who still serves as chairman. His son, Dan Cathy, is president and chief operating officer. The family is Southern Baptist and pledges in the company’s statement of corporate purpose, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.”
In conjunction with its public religiosity, the Cathy clan adheres to “the biblical definition of the family unit,” Dan Cathy recently asserted, continuing, “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives […] We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.”
For Cathy, this particular form of family-strengthening (as you might have guessed) requires weakening families anchored by same-sex couples, and Chick-fil-A has donated very heavily to organizations such as Focus on the Family and Eagle Forum, which oppose same-sex marriage and lobby against efforts to legalize it.
In recent days, Mayors Thomas Menino of Boston and Rahm Emanuel of Chicago—strident supporters of gay marriage rights—vowed to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening branches in their respective cities. Menino wrote Cathy, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” Emanuel similarly asserted, “The values expressed [by Cathy] are not Chicago values.”
The mayors’ comments, in turn, won them scores of fans across social networks, but also a phalanx of opposition from both the usual suspects—Mike Huckabee declared Wednesday, August 1, “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”—and the otherwise-friendly—the Boston Globe wrote in an editorial, “which part of the First Amendment does Menino not understand?”
In my role as spectator in this kerfuffle, I can merrily engage in one of my favorite pastimes: Defending an organization whose views I find repulsive.
As something of a First Amendment enthusiast, I take it as my first-order duty to affirm that the Globe is correct: Preventing a private business from setting up shop because the mayor disagrees with the COO’s political or religious views is spectacularly unconstitutional—a point both Menino and Emanuel have since acknowledged.
I admire, as I wrote at the top, Chick-fil-A’s steadfastness in sticking to its principles. The outfit’s longest-running practice—unrelated to this current brouhaha—is to be closed on Sundays, a tradition that emerged, the elder Cathy says, as “our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.” Call me a sucker, call me old-fashioned, but that is a beautiful sentence from someone who calls himself “chief executive officer.” Declaring oneself more dedicated to God than profit and engaging in business practices that prove it? Bravo.
I hasten to add (having gotten that out of my system) that I feel no hesitation whatever in joining the throngs of my fellow 20-somethings who find Chick-fil-A’s association with anti-gay groups disgusting, its very presence in a political debate bizarre and its COO’s citation of a “biblical definition of a family unit” laughable.
What is most important, it seems to me, is that the cards are on the table. The president of a corporation, with every incentive to play nice and steer clear of controversy, has opted to publicly condemn a sizable chunk of potential customers as “prideful” and “arrogant” for no reason except that he truly believes it, and for that he warrants respect.
For those who wish to object: Object. Raise holy heck. Stage boycotts. Donate to gay rights groups. Eat vegan. Tell everyone you know to do the same. Defeat your opponents in the marketplace of ideas; that’s what America is all about. What are you…chicken?