The past two weeks have brought to light a truly disturbing political demonstration — and it has nothing to do with presidential elections or generic congressional ballots. At least three mayors in some of America's largest cities, as well as plenty of other city officials, have publicly demanded political orthodoxy as a condition of doing business in their metropolises. Political correctness has transformed into a strange American version of fascism — over a chicken fillet sandwich and an opinion about marriage that even our Democratic president officially held as recently as two months ago.
The story so far: Fast-food outlet Chick-fil-A started operations 45 years ago in the South, and has been expanding ever since. The owners have a well-known and widely publicized commitment to their Christian faith; Chick-fil-A stores remain closed on Sundays to celebrate the Christian Sabbath. Chick-fil-A's mission clearly underscores those values, as well as traditional customer service goals: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
With that background — which Chick-fil-A promotes on its website — no one should have been surprised to hear chief operating officer Dan Cathy express his support for a traditional definition of marriage. "We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy told Baptist Press two weeks ago. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."
Whether or not one agrees with Dan Cathy about the definition of marriage, he has the same right to do business in any American city as anyone else who believes differently.
Not so fast, Dan. Apparently, that's true in most places of the country, but not in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City.
CNN picked up the Baptist Press report of Cathy's interview, but painted it as opposition to gays: "'Guilty as charged,' Cathy said when asked about his company's support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage." However, Baptist Press never asked Cathy about gays, or gay marriage, nor did Cathy volunteer any statement about gays, as commentator Terry Mattingly at Get Religion pointed out later. CNN apparently made that assumption based on partnerships between Chick-fil-A, Focus on the Family, and Eagle Forum on marriage enrichment and support programs. While both of the other organizations do engage in political opposition to gay marriage, Chick-fil-A does not.
Based on CNN's spin, politicians in several large American cities attempted to disprove Cathy's notion of a free country in which people can operate their businesses regardless of their religion or political point of view. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Cathy stating that "[t]here is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it." (Chick-fil-A's website explicitly states that they do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in employment or in commerce, by the way.) A few days later, Menino had to retract that statement, after belatedly discovering that mayors and cities can't discriminate on the basis of political or religious belief.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that Chick-fil-A did not represent "Chicago values," and suggested that Chick-fil-A invest its money elsewhere. Chicago, by the way, has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation among major cities, so it seems odd that its mayor would tell Chick-fil-A to take a hike for having the exact same position on marriage that Emanuel's former boss — President Barack Obama — held the entire time Emanuel worked at the White House. Even more odd, at the same time Emanuel declared Chick-fil-A fast-fooda non grata, he rolled out the red carpet for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to have his acolytes patrol Chicago neighborhoods. Not only is Farrakhan a well-known anti-Semite, he also opposes same-sex marriage. In fact, Farrakhan publicly blasted Obama for flip-flopping on the issue in May.
Emanuel later backed down, but not one of the local aldermen, who still demanded a pledge from Cathy to quit associating with groups that oppose gay marriage as a prerequisite for a business permit. A councilman in New York made a similar threat. San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee kept his attack on freedom of thought to Twitter, noting that the closest Chick-fil-A outlet was 40 miles away — and that the company shouldn't try to get any closer.
It fell to a long-time nanny-state politician to offer some common sense on what freedom means. Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, took time off between regulating soft-drink serving sizes and locking up baby formula to force more new mothers to breastfeed in order to set Menino and Emanuel straight. Bloomberg scolded his fellow mayors during his regular radio show, saying that it's inappropriate for governments "to look at somebody's political views and decide whether or not they can live in the city, or operate a business in the city, or work for somebody in the city."
I'll say. There is nothing wrong with boycotts by consumers, though they often tend to be ineffective. Still though, boycotts are perhaps the purest form of free-market political protests — entirely voluntary, with commensurate impact to the issue at hand on the business in question. But when governments demand political loyalty as a requirement to operate a business or live in a city, that has more in common with the 20th-century regimes that required business owners to have party cards and excluded anyone not considered loyal to the entrenched ruling class.
That's not the free country that Cathy lauded in his original remarks, nor what we would commonly believe about the United States of America. Whether or not one agrees with Cathy about the definition of marriage — a definition that has been the rule in the U.S. for more than two centuries, and which the current president supported until just two months ago — Cathy has the same right to do business in any American city as anyone else who believes differently, just as people who disagree with Cathy can eat elsewhere. That's what Americans used to believe about the meaning of freedom, and hopefully most of us outside of Boston and Chicago still do.