That was fast. Last week, Mayor Thomas Menino announced that, because of COO Dan Cathy’s comments in favor of traditional marriage, Boston would not allow Chick-fil-A to open any restaurants in that city. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel followed with similar statements. “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” he declared. The response from commentators on both the left and right was uniform and swift. Government cannot deny licenses because businesses express political opinions with which government disagrees: that’s what the Free Speech Clause is about. By this week, Menino had backed down, and New York’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a supporter of same-sex marriage, had distanced his city from the anti-Chick-fil-A campaign. The crusade to shut down Chick-fil-A seems to have ended, at least for now.

Consumers have every right to organize a boycott because they disapprove of what a firm’s COO has to say. Such boycotts typically fail, however, because of collective action problems. It’s hard to organize these things; most consumers simply don’t care enough about politics to have it drive their purchasing decisions. In the 1990s, conservatives failed when they tried to boycott Disney because of its support for gay rights, and liberals failed when they tried to boycott Domino’s Pizza over its pro-life statements, a campaign memorably parodied on Seinfeld. Government, however, can overcome collective action problems, and easily force people out of business if they express unpopular political opinions. That’s why campaigns like this week’s against Chick-fil-A are so dangerous. Whatever one thinks about same-sex marriage, one can’t allow government to shut people down for expressing views in a public debate. (There’s no evidence that Chick-fil-A in any way discriminates against gays and lesbians, either in hiring or service).

The Chick-fil-A corporate leadership supports traditional marriage from religious conviction, so the controversy has implications for religious freedom in America. It’s encouraging to see that Americans understand the value of free religious expression and disapprove of government’s attempts to bully people into silence – even if they disagree with the religious views being expressed. The controversy does reveal something ominous, though. As Robert George and others have written, the coming clash over religious freedom in America will likely involve sexuality: abortion, contraception, pornography, same-sex marriage, and so on. On sexuality, progressives seem increasingly unable even to understand the worldview of traditional religious communities like Muslims, Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and the Catholic Church. The intuitions are totally different: what traditional religious communities can’t help but see as common sense, progressives can’t help but see as psychological repression and bigotry. Disagreement is profound. Clashes may be very ugly, indeed.

Back to CLR Forum

14 thoughts on “Chick-fil-A and the Coming Clash

  1. As one who has closely studied the socio-politico-cultural wars for almost 50 years, I well remember when what was then called the New Left, comprised generally of young far-left Democrats, revolutionaries, anti-Fabian Socialists, Communists and Alinsky-style “community activists”, found it advantageous to portray themselves as champions of free speech and virtually unfettered individual liberty. Throughout the 60’s and up until the 90’s, it was the American Left which almost always demanded that any and all restrictions on not just freedom of speech, but all kinds of expression including religious worship as well, be banned. They were experts on the First Amendment, and dutifully marched while shrilly chanting their support of “Freedom”.

    My, how times have changed. Today the left is almost totally silent about free speech, freedom of religion, assembly, press, etc. I can’t recall the last time I heard a left liberal cite the First Amendment in favor of Americans’ right to individual freedom. Indeed, they have done a 180 on the First Amendment, and now the left unashamedly argues for reining in our basic freedoms (particularly speech and exercise of religion) so as not to “offend” some group or another. Need I say that since the early 60’s and for many decades after the left thought that offending people with free speech was a very good thing indeed?

    What makes the left’s unabashed reversal even more delicious is that the Boomer activists who marched and even rioted in the 60’s to show their deeply principled support for the First Amendment, are in many, many cases the very same persons who today treat it as if it doesn’t exist. Rahm Emanuel is a perfect example of a “reversee”. The Obama administration is almost exclusively made up of these former champions of individual liberty. One would be excused for concluding that these prior advocates for maximum freedom merely used advocacy of the First Amendment to change society to their liking and tp get power.

    Gosh, it’s almost like the left never really believed in anything the Constitution stands for, and merely cynically used it to manipulate the public. I would almost be worried that the left seems to have completely gotten away with their transformation, and indeed has transformed American society to the point we don’t care about, understand or expect any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

    But I know our good old watchdog news media is alert and will come to the rescue! Yes, I’m sure the media is quite aware of the left’s blatant hypocrisy and astonishing cynicism, and will spring to the attack any day now. Thank goodness we have a free and independent news media, made up of individuals who have taken care never to mix politics with journalism, and who are committed to fair and objective reporting free of partisanship or bias. It’s a good thing: if I thought our media had been just as cynical and manipulative as the left – indeed, if a substantial majority of our media’s members were believers in and even a part of that same hard left – then I might fear that our form of government as a representative republic, even our very way of life, would be in very real jeopardy.

    Boy am I glad that’s not the case!

  2. The New Atheism of writers like Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris has laid the moral groundwork for secularists to say, quite unabashedly, that, as they do not share a believer’s faith, neither do they feel compelled to respect it. The main thrust of contemporary atheism is to mock and deride believers to the point of rendering their concerns and values utterly contemptible. Under such conditions, violent conflict is perhaps inevitable.

  3. As with the abortion debate there is a “Taranto effect” at work here. Those squealing the loudest today to suppress religious freedom reproduce the slowest, if at all. Hence their numbers are not likely to increase much over time.

  4. One wonders at the ignorance of the intelligensia spearheading the progressive movement. The ideals they promote twist and weaken social fabric, causing chaos, unease and mistrust between not just groups but individuals. Deciding that “government” knows best is simply replacing an actual moral construct (religion) with an amoral construct. Government has no moral compass except for the one brought to it by whoever’s in power at the time, should they actually have one. Thus any society with that kind of governmental fluctuation will be unstable at best. We don’t need state sponsored religion we need government to get it’s collective nose out of our moral business or we need replace those that can’t understand that our of office.

  5. Have to disagree with you NC Mtn Girl, their numbers will increase because “modern liberals” represent the vast majority of teachers, both in high school and college. They are churning out kids who graduate knowing two things (as Evan Sayet has noted) about politics: Democrat good, Republican bad.

    Oh, and Sardondi, I love your sarcasm.

  6. Sardoni has nailed it, but left one part out. After all the community organizing to defend freedom of action for themselves, once their base was established and secure and they’d attained some power, now indeed it was their turn for the drivers seat and all their bleatings for ‘tolerance’ were no longer necessary. So ‘by any means necessary’ is now to be rolled out to suppress the expressions of their opponents, and off down the path of eventual mass murder they trundle, just like Stalin.

  7. To heck with Rahm Emanuel. Boycott Chicago, the most dangerous large city in the world.

  8. The Prog Prime Directive:


  9. Interesting that Mayor Menino denounced Chick-Fil-A while earlier arranging a sweetheard land deal for a mosque, one of whose directors advocated capital punishment for homosexuality:

    Guess some h8rs are more diverse than others.

  10. This kind of abuse of power goes on all the time in most cities in the U.S. it just never makes it to the public, kinda think of speed traps as an example. What is happening here is these two blowhard politicians are politicizing it to stroke their homosexual voting block. I think only the radical homosexual that easily has the feathers ruffled cares, most just lead normal lives and understand people are different..

  11. The fact is that this divide will also reveal a serious breach on the right. Social-values-free libertarians, or quasi-libertarians, are arguably more culturally significant than traditional conservatives (such as myself). And while their free-market and free-speech inclinations make it easy for them to figure out the right and wrong in this particular instance, their laissez-faire view on social and religious matters are more like those being pilloried as “leftists” here than they are like the owners of Chick-Fil-A.

  12. Ron, I am one of those libertarian conservatives you are talking about. We are very strong in the Tea Party and we are becomming one of the driving forces in american politics. I think that is partly because we are one of the few groups that can talk to the best in each of the 2 parties, and thus represent a real middle ground.

  13. I have a simple deal with conservatives. I will tolerate social conservatism, provided it is accompanied with fiscal and constitutional conservatism. But if you try to sell your “conservatism” with social conservatism alone, as happened during Bush 2, count me out.

  14. The typical expressions I’ve heard go like this: “Private individuals are more than welcome not to patronize Chick-fil-A, or any other business whose owners or directors take objectionable positions on public issues. But under our Constitution, public officials cannot impose official or legal sanctions on this basis.” Mark’s post seems to take basically this view.

    On one level, this position is perfectly correct, I think. And I agree that it’s deeply troubling– shocking, almost– that some high-level officials have such a weak understanding of or commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of belief. But should we be so ready to approve of private individuals boycotting business indirectly associated with views that individuals disagree with?

    I grant that private citizens have a legal right to do this. And I understand the logic: boycotts are a way of expressing one’s own views, and also of avoiding the directing of one’s dollars into causes one opposes.

    And yet . . . the flourishing of freedom of thought, speech, and religion ultimately depend, I suspect, as much on cultural attitudes as on formal legal doctrine and decisions. So what about Mill’s sensible observation that private censorship can be as damaging to freedom of thought and speech as public censorship? And what ever happened to Voltaire’s famous pronouncement? “I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Today the common attitude seems to be, “I can’t revoke your right to say what I disagree with, but if I can I’ll put you out of business for saying it.” It’s a large legal but small psychological step from that attitude to the position of the mayors of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco. How long can freedom of speech, thought, or religion flourish in that kind of cultural climate?

Leave a Reply