The Texas attorney general has launched an investigation to determine whether the San Antonio City Council violated religious-liberty laws by barring Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city’s airport.
The council voted late last week to exclude Chick-fil-A from a concession agreement with San Antonio International Airport, citing, in part, the religious views associated with the fast-food restaurant chain — specifically, the anti-same-sex marriage values, according to the Texas Tribune.
The state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, said the treatment of the chain was “discriminatory” and wrote in a letter to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the city council that his office would investigate whether such a ban violates any state laws. He said he also asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to look at the federal regulations.
“The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A’s chicken,” Paxton (R) wrote. “Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport.”
The mayor said the city attorney is reviewing the letter, and “I am withholding comment until we have had adequate time to analyze it.”
The Texas Tribune reported that city council member Roberto Treviño proposed a plan to approve the concession agreement, permitting eight new vendors to set up in the airport’s Terminal A but swap out Chick-fil-A for another vendor. Treviño told the council that he could not get behind a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior,” according to the newspaper.
“The work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion should not be undone so easily,” he said, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The Express-News noted that although the mayor came to the same conclusion, he based his decision on business, arguing that the city would lose revenue on Sundays when the restaurant closes for religious reasons.
The Chick-fil-A Foundation has donated to organizations that are seen by some as anti-LGBTQ or oppose rights such as same-sex marriage.
However, the company has maintained that “To suggest that our efforts in supporting these organizations was focused on suppressing a group of people is misleading and inaccurate.”
“Our intention is to have a positive influence on our communities by donating to programs that benefit youth and education and are welcoming to all,” Rodney Bullard, executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation and vice president of corporate social responsibility, said in a statement last week. “We are proud of the impact we’ve been able to make so far and we have a lot yet to do.”
Paxton, the state attorney general, said in a statement that the city’s decision “to exclude a respected vendor based on the religious beliefs associated with that company and its owners is the opposite of tolerance.”
“The city’s discriminatory decision is not only out of step with Texas values, but inconsistent with the Constitution and Texas law,” Paxton added.
San Antonio City Council’s decision, a 6-4 vote, has made national headlines and prompted criticism from conservative lawmakers.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) wrote on Twitter that the ban “has the stench of religious discrimination against Chick-fil-A.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said that the “citizens of beautiful San Antonio deserve more delicious sandwiches, and fewer rabid attacks against companies because of their charitable giving to the community.”
Republican Congressman Chip Roy, who represents the state’s 21st Congressional District, which includes parts of San Antonio, wrote an open letter to the city council this week, scolding members for the vote.
“Targeting individuals, organizations or corporations for carrying out their deeply held religious beliefs in accord with our laws and consistent with many Americans’ similarly held religious beliefs is hardly making San Antonio a ‘champion of equality and inclusion,’ ” Roy wrote. “I hope this matter can be resolved, as it would be unfortunate if the council’s decision negatively impacted our ability to effectively advocate for San Antonio in Congress due to such rampant discriminatory action against a well-regarded business with such a significant presence in our communities in Central Texas and across the nation.”
However, one council member, Greg Brockhouse, has apologized to Chick-fil-A, emphasizing in a letter to the company that San Antonio City Council’s recent decision does not “reflect the overwhelming belief in our city that you are a valued business and community partner.”
“I regret the words used to describe your organization and I will not repeat them in this letter,” Brockhouse, who is running for mayor, wrote to the company’s chairman and chief executive. “My only goal is to ensure the employees of Chick-fil-A know how much we care about their presence in San Antonio.”
Chick-fil-A did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.