As a Senate member, Lindsey Graham has the ability to vote to send the United States to war. It’s unlikely that a kerfuffle over a fast-food-chicken chain necessitating the deployment of troops would ever wind up before Congress, but on Thursday, the South Carolina Republican vowed that he would “go to war” to protect Chick-fil-A.

Why might a purveyor of nuggets need such senatorial protection? A group of students at the University of Notre Dame had objected to the suggested opening of a location on its campus, citing the company’s history of donating to anti-LBGTQ groups. The students also pointed to donations made by Chick-fil-A’s billionaire owner, Dan Cathy, to a group fighting the Equality Act, legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

News of the students’ beef with the chicken chain was amplified by a story on Fox News, which has lately gone all-in on stoking the culture wars. Fox’s headline was enough to prompt Graham to stand up for Big Chicken.

“I hope we don’t have to, but I will go to war for the principles Chick fil-A stands for,” he tweeted. “Great food. Great service. Great values.”

Graham began his tweet thread with a compliment to the Catholic-founded Indiana institution, whose Campus Dining had announced that Chick-fil-A was among the restaurant options it was considering as part of a “comprehensive retail dining master plan.”

“I have always thought @NotreDame was one of the greatest universities in America, if not the world,” Graham wrote. He added that it would be a “dangerous precedent to set” to ban the company from campus because students disagreed with its founders.

It turned out that Graham would not have to take up his sword: Hours after his tweet, the university announced Chick-fil-A was, in fact, coming. “Notre Dame has examined the concerns surrounding Chick-fil-A’s charitable giving, discussed them with company representatives, campus partners and students and believes that Chick-fil-A has responded to these issues in a satisfactory manner,” read a statement from university spokesman Dennis Brown. “Our students have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to have a Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus, and we look forward to opening one early next year.”

Two students wrote a letter this month to the student newspaper outlining their objections to the then-proposed arrival of the chain. “Our first concern relates to Chick-fil-A’s long history of antagonism toward the LGBTQ+ community,” they wrote. “Over the past two decades, Chick-fil-A has donated significant sums to groups that oppose LGBTQ+ rights.”

In 2019, Chick-fil-A announced its foundation had halted all such controversial donations. But the students noted the company’s profits continue to enrich Cathy. “Even though Chick-fil-A has halted the worst of its donations, patronizing Chick-fil-A means lining Cathy’s pockets,” they wrote. Cathy is among a group of megadonors that has given to a Christian-backed fund that has helped to fight the Equality Act, which is stalled in the Senate, the Daily Beast reported last month.

They also cited concerns about the chain’s reliance on factory farming, its environmental impact and lack of sufficient vegetarian and vegan options. The fact that it is closed on Sundays, a nod to the company’s Christian founders, “is not best for a bustling, hungry college campus,” they wrote.

In addition to the letter to the editor, students and faculty circulated and signed an open letter objecting to Chick-fil-A’s campus outpost. Fox reported nearly 180 students and faculty had signed the letter, but it appears to have been subsequently made private.

In an interview, Tilly Keeven-Glascock, one of the authors of the letters, said the attention the effort has drawn surprised her — and that the spotlight has had impact both good and bad.

After the Fox story ran online, she says, she received multiple death threats on her Facebook account and elsewhere on social media. “Nasty comments,” including one calling her a “queer crusader,” flooded in. One man apparently scrolled to the end of her Facebook timeline and commented on a photo of her and a friend when they were 16, which she called “creepy.”

“I did feel a little bit physically unsafe before I privatized my Facebook,” she said.

But she says she’s happy that the story has made people far outside the confines of her campus think about their own consumer choices. “Our petition was focusing on the harm that a Chick-fil-A place could do on our campus.” she says. “But I am grateful for the media attention that people even beyond Notre Dame are sort of looking into it and considering their options.”

She was also surprised about the tenor of Graham’s tweets. “I suppose I don’t see it as quite the war that he’s crusading on,” she says. “But I wish him the best while he’s in battle.”

This post has been updated.

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