If you can swallow shredded flakes of the First Amendment, along with your chicken sandwiches with pickles and waffle fries, this is your week to get a stomach full.
This week offers a grandiose “Cluck In” at Chick-fil-A restaurants in response to comments made by the company’s president weeks ago
about traditional marriage. Several gay rights groups are picketing, protesting and staging “same-sex kiss ins” at some of the chain’s locations around the country. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), along with the mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco have warned that the chain is not welcome and the company should not bother pursuing new franchises in their towns. Gray has also accused the chain of serving up “hate chicken.”
Meanwhile, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has turned the table of the chain’s critics, calling them bigots, and has launched a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” which is Wednesday.
I support the gay groups’ rights under the First Amendment to protest. The creed of Voltaire which hung over a newspaper portal where I once worked read: “I may disagree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I take this seriously. But what is upsetting is the high-minded, sanctimonious arrogance of politicians to use state power to punish religious dissent as illustrated by the mayors.
The chicken folks at Chick-fil-A are virtually being tarred and feathered. If their business practice was proven to single out gays for employment discrimination or if they are overcharging them or systematically using hateful words, I would fully support any gay rights activists to turn up the heat on this company.
Earlier this month, Dan Cathy, the president of the 66-year-old food chain, told an online Baptist journal that his company was “very much supportive of the Biblical family unit. We are a family owned business, a family led business, and we are still married to our first wives.” This statement could have been viewed as a dig at divorcees, but it was the gay rights activist groups that considered it hateful. To clarify, Cathy added: “While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage (between a male and female), we love and respect everyone, who disagrees.”
At issue here is the First Amendment which gives both sides of the same-sex issue the right to freely voice their viewpoints as long as the speech is not hateful, harmful or hinders the free expression of the other side.
Both sides have ratched up the rhetoric, as is their right under our constitution: Cathy said on the radio show that people advocating for same-sex marriage are “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”. Equality Matters told the Associated Press last week: “This solidifies Chick-fil-A as being closely aligned with some of the most vicious anti-gay voices in the country.”
But since the First Amendment also guarantees the separation of church and state, what gives politicians the right to use their offices to threaten to punish one group over the other for expressing their religious view — or for not having any religious view at all, for that matter.
While most black pastors won’t support Huckabee’s call to action Wednesday because of his conservative views on civil rights, too many who support traditional marriages are too chicken to challenge the protesters’ stance themselves for fear of losing federal funds. Some who have spoken out have already been vilified by politicians for doing so. But silence only ensures a continual erosion of their First Amendment rights.
“I am worried about religious rights being taken away,” says Keith Magee, pastor of Berachah Church in Boston. “Will government continue to evolve where they dictate the affairs of the church? Will restaurants that speak and practice Christian principles be shut down? For Christians, this does not look like a happy ending.”
Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell and Living Well, Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.
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