Monday, July 30, 2012

Chick-Fil-A and the 1st Amendment (Why Dan Cathy is no Bigot)

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

"We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.

"We intend to stay the course," he said. "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."

Those are the words of Chick-Fil-A owner and Georgia native Dan Cathy. It was said in an interview with the Baptist Press where Cathy discussed his values, his business practices and professional philosophy.  All influenced by his faith as he reiterated in another interview.

Under the 1st Amendment, Cathy has the right to believe and say what he feels. As the owner of a privately owned company, the Constitution protects him from that like it would any of us. As I’ve also written several times on here, however, it doesn’t protect him from backlash as many have done.

Cathy has also donated to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage. A coworker who is an alumna of Northeastern University in Boston told me earlier this year that her school protested adding a franchise for this reason.

This is an uproar that has led to boycotts and counter-boycotts. I’ve waited a week before even speaking on it because I wanted to make sure my thoughts were right. Here they are.

Obviously the gay marriage issue is the hottest button issue in America. Emotion often overshadows reason and yet good reason makes you question where you stand. But there are two questions that need to be considered from Cathy’s comments

1) Does owner’s said views influence every franchise?
2) Does owner’s said views lead to outward discrimination towards coworkers and patrons.

Clearly #1 isn’t true as evidenced by the Hollywood franchise owner's comments. But question No. 2 is critical because this is where problems would arise. Nowhere in the company’s hiring policy do they say they will not hire anyone based on sexual orientation, race, gender.

For me, that’s the big deal. Bigotry implies action, not just disagreement.  Somebody can call me a nigger and I don’t assume racist right away even I will probably strongly react. But let somebody keep calling me nigger and do things to aggravate that, then we have a major problem. 

There is no evidence that Chick-Fil-A’s numerous franchises are discriminatory to anyone based on word from the top down. So I think calling the restaurant or its owner homophobic is inaccurate.

I think people are disappointed that somebody disagrees with them on a hot button issue. The Muppets, the city of Boston and others have the right to pull their support but is it fair to label every franchise a place of hate? All because the owner doesn’t support gay marriage yet welcomes all to his establishment.

A friend on Twitter tried to compare this to if a place supported the Ku Klux Klan. The key difference? I don’t know if the Chick-Fil-A owner actually supports groups that practice terrorism like the KKK did. They endorsed physical harm towards people of color and keeping people segregated.

Unless these anti-gay groups are actively preaching harm towards gay folks, I don’t see a connection.  Unless Chick-Fil-A specifically stated that the GLBT community is not welcome in their establishment the way other establishments feel/felt towards the GLBT community or people of color, it is not the same.

Simply disagreeing with a right or an issue isn’t enough for me to boycott. Maybe it is for some but I don’t think so. Which brings me to another key point.

Boycotts are done to change policy, not change minds. Opinions can’t be changed right away because of financial decisions but policy can be. As long as Chick-Fil-A’s customer/hiring policy is open and respectful, then that’s all. Not everyone who disagrees with gay marriage is a bigot and not everyone who agrees with it is respectful in their behavior towards those who disagree. 

I’ll give you an example my mother shared with me. In the 1990’s, Denny’s was sued for racial discrimination after there were complaints in various locations around the country. The examples in the link show that Denny’s openly practiced questionable tactics, not just had an owner who disagreed with integration. Those prompted boycotts around the country, led by Jet and Ebony Magazine.

To me, that’s justifiable. The boycotts led to a change in policy. I'm not sure if boycotting Chick-Fil-A will change any policy, since all of their official policies are fair. Furthermore, if Cathy did change his mind, would some of you trust his word? I would applaud him if he did just like I'd applaud him staying with his views while promising to be respectful to all of his customers.

Do folks have the right to boycott? Absolutely. You don’t have to go somewhere where you disagree with someone. Yet as much as I support the idea of a boycott (I currently boycott Wal-Mart when possible), I think there’s a whole lot we’d boycott if we knew what everyone supported financially.

Buying Chick-Fil-A doesn’t make you a bigot or a person who hates gay people. So it’s not fair to call the owner or label every patron a bigot or homophobe, since they only are disagreeing with marriage, not actively calling for violence or segregation or acting on said belief in policy. I also don’t think a city can bar someone from opening an establishment based on disagreements in policy.

We don’t need to have people always agree with us; we need to learn how to live with disagreeing. A world where everybody agrees is boring. A world where we can disagree and still work together with respect for another is a beautiful one. I could care less if you agree with me or anything I've written. All I care is that you read and engage me because I'll happy to discuss and reason with you.

Ultimately, it’s your choice on how to handle Chick-Fil-A due to that 1st Amendment. I personally don’t support this boycott because how a man feels doesn’t always lead to discrimination. As long as Chick-Fil-A continues to hire any worker without prejudice and as long as they welcome all customers with dignity and respect, it doesn’t matter how the owner feels to me.

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