What do a chicken sandwich and the freedom of speech have in common?
Apparently, a great deal as we have seen in recent days. The chicken sandwich comes from a family owned company called Chick fil-A, Inc., which began business in 1946 in Hapeville Georgia and today, has 1,615 locations of its fast food restaurant throughout the United States. T
he freedom of speech comes from the Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, first proposed in September, 1789, later ratified, and by all accounts these amendments, although at times battered and bruised, are still the law of our land.
My first encounter with the Chick fil-A company was hearing about it when it first sponsored a College Bowl game some years ago. My reaction was "what is a Chic fil-A?" You see, there are very few of these restaurants in the northeast United States. As the years passed and cable channels expanded, you could see Chick fil-A commercials.
This week, I learned a lot more about the company and its president, Dan Cathy. Apparently, Mr. Cathy is a Christian who personally believes in “the biblical definition of the family unit" and that gay marriage invites "God's judgment on our nation."
He recently expressed this personal opinion while being interviewed about his personal beliefs. Mr. Cathy's expressed personal belief is opposite of the laws of numerous states which now permit same sex marriage. Mr. Cathy exercised his freedom of speech. Whether you agree with Mr. Cathy's opinion or not, he has the right in our Nation to express his opinion. Or does he?
What has been disturbing about the exercise of this basic freedom, is the reaction to its exercise from various elected state and city officials around the country. For example, the Mayor of the City of Chicago has stated that Mr. Cathy's values are not "Chicago values." I wonder, is there a government-mandated set of personal values every resident of Chicago must possess? Additionally, New York City Council President Christine Quinn stated, on official letterhead of the New York City Council, that " Chick-fil-A is not welcome in New York City as long as the company's president continues to uphold and promote his discriminatory views." Does this mean that Mr. Cathy forfeits his freedom of speech because the New York City Council does not agree with his personal beliefs? By extension, does any person lose the right of freedom of speech if the New York City Council so mandates?
According the the company's profile, "the Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender." To paraphrase a famous quote from another well known fast food restaurant chain "where's the discrimination?" Perhaps in the fact that the restaurants are closed on Sundays?
By a further extension, suppose I express my personal belief in the right to life, which is not the current law of our land. Does this allow the board, upon finding out of my expressed personal belief, to order the building department to revoke the certificate of occupancy on my home and force me to move out of town? Constitutional lawyers refer to such scenarios as the "slippery slope" of erosion of constitutional rights.These recent examples from elected government officials might be better referred to as the HOV lane to over reaching by government authority.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City took a different position from other elected officials stating that ”You can’t have a test for what the owners’ personal views are before you decide to give a permit to do something in the city. You really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit. That’s just not government’s job.”
I think Mayor Bloomberg is right on this one. The freedom of speech must be protected by our elected officials in the performance of the duties for which they were elected.
As far as the chicken sandwich is concerned, I had my first Chic fil-A sandwich about a year ago in Georgia. To borrow another well know phrase, "they make a nice sandwich."
Food for thought. Thank you.