Cynical Soapbox: Chick-Fil-A, Again

I’m sure most of us are sick of hearing about Chick-Fil-A by now, but I’ve been away and I’ve finally got the chance to throw my two cents in. For those of us who live under a rock, their company’s president, Dan Cathy, said he was “guilty as charged” when asked if he supported anti-gay groups, and went on to discuss his belief in the “biblical” definition of marriage, yata yata, yata yata. His statements, understandably, infuriated the LGBT & friends community and have created a political shitstorm.

The most recently sprouted head of the Hydra of Controversy involves the backlash–or support–that Chick-Fil-A is currently undergoing. Notable backlash comes from the likes of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who has very publicly told the company they have no business associating themselves with the Freedom Trail, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said Chick-Fil-A doesn’t “mesh” with Chicago values.  Considering Chicago’s (and Boston’s!) chequered past, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

On the other side of the coin, conservative pundits have become the poster children for fast food. Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, in what looks like the failed-politician equivalent of Dancing With The Stars, have all offered their public support for the company or ventured into CFA storefronts for a bag o’ sammies and waffle fries. And in all of this, there’s been a wave of rhetoric about how this is about “free speech” and “family values” and First Amendment rights and…whatever.

Behold the bastion of civil rights!  Photo from, because why not go straight to the horse’s mouth?

So where’s my problem, right? What’s my big complaint with the whole CFA controversy? Why should I care where Sarah Palin buys her lunch?

The thing is, I don’t. Sarah Palin could open up a string of CFA franchises and I couldn’t care less. Mike Huckabee could have a Chick-Fil-A daily hour of appreciation for the next year and I wouldn’t care.  And Santorum can feed his kids all the Chick-Fil-A sauce he can get his family values-laden hands on. Go for it. I don’t care.

What I do care about, though, is the way the issue of free speech keeps getting twisted back on itself.  There’s a lot of bandying about of the concept of the “thought police”, and that those who vocally, publicly disagree with the president of Chick-Fil-A and are boycotting or urging their friends to boycott, are being discriminatory in their actions, based on the notion that they don’t agree with said CFA president.  Said one Facebook commenter, “Seems like anyone who disagrees with you is a bigot [Ed. note: more on this later]. If you disagree with someone then their [sic] wrong and your [sic] right. who is the bigot???? mmmmm maybe its you thats the bigot. you only have room for your opinion. there are differences of opinion in both sides of the issue and there are bigots on both sides too.”

In some of the other-side comments I read, one woman who thinks the CFA president is in the wrong, said, “It is NOT about freedom of speech, as I keep seeing repeated. It is about not handing money over to an organization that puts that money towards actively persecuting someone for being gay. Christianity is not an excuse for hatred- and most Christians I know do not use it as so, which makes trying to tolerate those who do even more difficult. This is about so much more than chicken. It is about basic human decency and respect.”

*sigh* Sort of.  Yes.  But not really… No.

The real problem that lies at the controversy that surrounds Chick-Fil-A is precisely about freedom of speech.  The CFA president had every right to say what he believes, and to set his company’s policies as he feels appropriate to the conduct of his business.  But speaking freely involves an inherent risk and that is, when you say something, you must expect to be held accountable for it. We suffer from an accountability lack these days; students are not held accountable for failing grades in school, bankers are not held accountable when they crash a global economy. So it should come as no surprise to me, really, that there is a contingent circling their collective wagons around Dan Cathy in an effort to protect him from the words that actually came out of his mouth.

In an ironic-yet-clever linguistic twist as evidenced previously, those protectors are also calling the people who oppose the Chick-Fil-A stance “bigots”.  Interesting.  I’ve pointed out in other arguments that words have meanings, and in this case the good people of Merriam-Webster define “bigot” as such:

a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

Thus anyone who opposes Chick-Fil-A’s policies is accused of bigotry, of being intolerant to the company. Which, perhaps, is true, in that I am intolerant of a person or organization who engages in systematically disenfranchising another group and attacking their civil rights based on a personal dislike.  But I don’t try to disenfranchise them in turn, or strip them of their civil rights or the ability to live and love as they see fit. Calling my dislike “bigotry” is akin to saying that opposing racial segregation is “bigotry”, as opposed calling it what it is, which is “decency”.  See the difference in the meanings of the words I chose?  It’s nuanced, but it’s there.

And by “nuanced”, I mean “blatant”.

In the 1927 Whitney vs. California decision, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis initially defined the concept of “counterspeech“, claiming that more discussion about a topic, not enforced silence, was the route to enlightenment and would ensure the continuance of a democratic society. While counterspeech might not have had a formal definition, its principle has lived in the American psyche since Thomas Paine put pen to paper and wrote Common Sense in 1776.  Standing on a soapbox (ahem!) and stating your issues with a given situation is as American as a bald eagle carrying a flag made out of apple pie.  Calling someone who disagrees with you–solely on the fact that they disagree with you, without evaluating their argument–a bigot, is the adult equivalent of a second grade schoolkid calling someone else a poopoohead on the playground, because Sir Poopoohead likes the Mets instead of the Yankees.  Ad hominem rebuttals solve no problems, open no discussion, and reinforce the idea that the person who is legitimately involved in bigoted behavior has no real interest in reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion. That person only wants to walk around, fingers in the ears, singing “La la can’t hear you la la.”

Dan Cathy is absolutely welcome to his opinions, and he is absolutely allowed to speak his mind.  And in no way am I obligated to quietly accept what he says.

No, Chick-Fil-A doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT community in that they are allowed to eat in their stores, and I’m sure at least one or two gay employees have manned their counters and have walked away relatively unscathed.  The bigotry comes in when you realize that in 2009, for example, CFA donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups (including one they founded themselves). And in the same way that Chick-Fil-A can set their own policies and run their own advertising and say what they want in public, people can set their own policies. I can choose–freely–not to go to Chick-Fil-A if I don’t want to. I can choose to dislike them, I can choose to tell my friends.  I can stand in the middle of Boston Common–like our forefathers did before us–to speechify about the civil injustice embraced by  Chick-Fil-A management, and I would be entirely within my rights.  I can write a blog. What I can’t do is spread vicious lies about them–if I said they made their food at the Soylent Green facility, it would be slanderous and I could get in trouble for it. But I’m only basing my words and action on what the president of the company has said in public, and the actions by which they express their values.

For those of you who object that a chicken sandwich has become politicized and the media and other people (like me) are making too much of a big deal about this issue, I’d like to remind you that the person who politicized this to begin with was the person who has donated millions of dollars in company money to further his political agenda. Not HIS money, mind you. If he’d just donated his money, then what sort of controversy would there be?  (Answer: None, because he can do what he wants with his money, and while I may disagree with his personal politics it’s not like I’m going to boycott his house.  See my previous statement about how people can set their own policies.) But no.  Dan Cathy donated an organization’s money–an organization that needs public patronage for its survival.  And he made his controversial statements while acting not as a private citizen but as a representative of that company. Isn’t part of the principle of the free market supposed to be that the buying public can choose to support a company (or not) as they see fit?  Individuals ruin companies all the time; why should Chick-Fil-A be exempted from facing the court of public opinion?

Geez.  If only we could work up this sort of public passion about the energy industry. Fast food? That’s what gets us going?  *sigh*

16 responses to Cynical Soapbox: Chick-Fil-A, Again

  1. Sorry if this is long.

    If he was acting as a representative of the company, shouldn’t the questions have stayed business related? Why was he asked this question to begin with? To create controversy. Honestly, you ask a Conservative Christian who follows the Bible closely when it comes to traditional family values such a loaded question, what did the questioner expect him to say? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, why his was questioned on this issue while being a representative of a company is another issue entirely. As with an business, don’t their charitable donations have to be approved by a board of trustees or a majority vote by the CEOs? Wouldn’t that then make ANY and ALL charitable donations a company decision, not a personal one?

    This from the Huffinton Post:
    “IRS 990 forms show that WinShape, the restaurant chain’s charitable foundation which was founded by Chick-Fil-A’s chairman S. Truett Cathy in 1994, gave to the following groups in 2009:

    Marriage & Family Legacy Fund: $994,199
    Fellowship Of Christian Athletes: $480,000
    National Christian Foundation: $240,000
    Focus On The Family: $12,500
    Eagle Forum: $5,000
    Exodus International: $1,000
    Family Research Council: $1,000”

    All of these so-called “Anti-gay groups” are Christian organizations who also shun divorce, adultery, and anything that goes against traditional husband, wife, God, kids style families. They are biblically based and are organized as such. Would any religious organization be caught doing or saying anything that went against their religious beliefs? Of course not! Nobody in the church would take them seriously if they did.

    “None of the organizations the company supports has an “anti-gay” agenda, although as Christian groups, they do uphold and support heterosexual marriages…”

    Well DUH! Christian beliefs uphold heterosexual marriages, very few reasons for divorce and no reason for adultery. It doesn’t mean these organizations are also “anti-divorcees”, or “anti-cheaters”, but being as they are “anti-gay”, they must be.

    Just a question, when did being for traditional values, being for a stable family consisting of the two people who actually created the children become anti- anything? Why is it all or nothing? Why do we have to be automatically “anti-” just because we support the opposing views. Personally, as a Christian, I don’t support gay marriage, but in the same turn, I will only quote Scripture in support of my opinion when asked directly about this view. Mr. Cathy did the same thing. He was asked, he answered.


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      For the record, this quote:

      “None of the organizations the company supports has an “anti-gay” agenda, although as Christian groups, they do uphold and support heterosexual marriages…”

      comes from an official statement offered up by Don Perry, CFA’s VP of Public Relations, after Chick-Fil-A was booted off the campus at Northeastern University because the students didn’t want to support them as a company. There’s an article about it here.

      The Marriage and Family Legacy Fund is part of the Marriage CoMission, and both organizations are surprisingly difficult to find information about online other than getting brief overviews of their agenda. However, the CoMission links to the Association of Marriage and Family Ministries as a “dynamic resource”, and the AMFM says, on their page on sexual wholeness, that, ” Over the years our culture has twisted and turned it into everything except what the Lord originally intended. Our passion and calling is to cast a fresh vision for Godly sexuality and to encourage the church and other ministries to address sexual issues from a positive and biblical perspective.” Sounds pretty anti-gay, saying that those who might have a different perspective on their sexuality are twisted and unwhole.

      Here’s the Fellowship of Christian Athletes job application. Note where it says: “Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternate lifestyle acceptable to God.” It’s towards the bottom, in the Sexual Purity Statement. To their benefit at least they’re disavowing extramarital sex as well.

      My favorite, though, is Exodus International, which they pray away the gay. No, they don’t actually say those words on their website, but they do have a link in the FAQ (so it’s frequently asked?) discussing whether or not AIDS is God’s punishment for living a gay lifestyle. Not the most positive or healthy perspective I’ve seen. Also, fun fact! The National Christian Foundation–which Chick-Fil-A has given money to–also donates some of their donations to Exodus International, so CFA may get to actually donate to them twice. Check out the NCF’s tax returns.

      The notion that being “for” traditional values means being “against” anything else developed in the 1970s with the rise of the New Right and punditry like Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and Dick Viguerie. They and their folks brought the concept of “family values” as something everyone should know and understand (mom, dad, 3.2 kids, puppy, picket fence) to the fore and reinforced it dramatically and to lasting effect during the Reagan era. They were the ones who defined “traditional” (and therefore, acceptable) values, not me, not you. The term they often used to describe the social conservative agenda is “single-issue voter”, where you highlight hot button, often irrationally founded concerns and get the voting public to look at that, not the bigger picture. Get a hold of a copy of Viguerie‘s The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead if you want to check it out for yourself.

      The thing is, I don’t oppose traditional marriage as a means by which couples choose to live their lives. I think it’s a great idea if two people can start a family, raise some kids, have decent jobs and inviolate pensions, and a puppy. I think it’s great if they can stay together and be happy and never have to worry about dating ever again for the rest of their lives. I just don’t care if it’s two people with the same packages between their legs. And I’ve got too many friends and family members who have to deal with the steady rhythms of intolerance simply because of who they are and who they choose to love. I resent anyone or any organization who tries to rob them of their happiness.

      And yes, he was asked, and he answered, but once he saw that “guilty as charged” was met with public discord, he didn’t stand behind his words and called out the PR damage control. What’s that about?

      Thanks for your comments!


  2. jp

    **If only we could work up this sort of public passion about the energy industry.** Or the children who go to bed hungry tonight, or the homeless, or our failing schools, or the jobs that are never coming back, or the bridges on the verge of collapse, or anything of substance beyond this nonsense that is our daily discourse.

    Great post Terri! As we discussed earlier, you highlight a common and self-serving misinterpretation of what the first amendment stands for (“Ewwww! you liberal meanies are so mad, just because I said something unbelievably disgusting in a public setting! Call me a wahhhhhmbulance”).

    I love how utterly unappetizing that sammich looks. Hail, the perfectly formed mound of textureless bread, and a slab of so-called meat that never could have attained that shape in nature.
    What, does a second piece of lettuce cost extra?

    Oh, by the way–not to police your language, but, English prof & all–I think the correct spelling is “yadda, yadda, yadda.” But I’ve watched more Seinfeld than you have (which may be in your favor!)
    love, JP


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Considering the amount of Seinfeld I’ve watched is zero, I don’t care about how it’s spelled. Jerry Seinfeld should thank me for dusting off his hackneyed bit.

      Yeah, the sammich looks pretty un-spectacular, or at least not delicious enough to inspire such public devotion. Imagine if someone was building a house and, when presented with their options for an exterior, reacted passionately: “NO! IT MUST BE BRICK, RED BRICK, I LOVE BRICK!” But it’s basic, there are other bricks, there are nicer exterior finishes, and maybe ones better for you and your needs? “NO! BRICK! BEST THING EVARRRRRRR!”

      OK, have the brick. Just don’t deny someone else the benefit of easy to clean siding.

      It’s the same thing.



      • jp

        **Jerry Seinfeld should thank me for dusting off his hackneyed bit.**
        Oh snap! And it’s Terri for the gold.


  3. Amber

    Great blog! Though I don’t think it was the fast food that excited anyone, but the issue itself. If a Big Oil president did and said the same things, I think the uproar would be the same. (not that that would ever happen since Big Oil will lie through their teeth and sell their grandmothers to turn a huge profit)


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      I don’t know, people have pretty determinedly stated their undying devotion to CFA and all its food. Because it’s so good and good for you, too. (Only it’s actually not, but who wants to read dumb ol’ nutrition information, anyway?) I don’t trust Big Oil to give me four quarters in exchange for a dollar, which is why I think it’s even more frustrating that people can’t get this kind of vigor going about something besides food.


  4. A work acquaintance voiced his prediction to me that food would be this country’s downfall – that was almost 12 years ago. I thought Mickey was just giving us hell for overindulging during the holidays. Seems he may have been spot on.
    Public Health, or lack thereof, being what it is, I’m thinking he might have been a frigging Nostradamus.
    Something so emotional and basic to human existence – to become a political and economic pawn! It’s pretty diabolical to think that there was plan to undermine health, sow addiction/loyalty to that unhealthy behavior and then manipulate “fans” with cries of constitutional RIGHTS! When did our brains turn to mush??????????????????????


    • beyondpaisley – Author

      I have a friend who does a lot of work/studies on public health, and he’s none too pleased with the state of it in the US. Neither am I. The interesting thing is, there are a few times I remember real, vitriolic public outcries about health and constitutional rights, and it always had to do with food. This instance here, with Chick-Fil-A…in New Jersey (where I grew up) there was a proposed law that said eggs served in restaurants had to be served with their yolks cooked through, since uncooked eggs could harbor disease. People went BERSERK, there were protests all over the state about the “runny egg law”. It never passed and years later it’s still a punchline/darkly thought of example of governmental overreach. Now…I don’t care how you want your eggs. I don’t care if you love Chick-Fil-A. But the thought that THESE are the topics that get peoples’ panties in a twist is beyond me.


      • Many flippant remarks spring to mind, but I suspect the answer is very complicated and has a strong attachment to the financial/political gain of a few powerful people…who can afford to hire others to push the emotional buttons of people who don’t possess a good bullshit meter. But then, what do I know? 😉 Nikki


      • beyondpaisley – Author

        We all have limitations of our knowledge, so I don’t know what you know. But I will say it seems your bullshit meter is working just fine. 😉


  5. hazeldazel

    (wait, can i post pics here? it’s an awesome and actually germaine pic, click it my beyotches!)

    I love how these dudes cherry-pick the bible. they quote deuteronomy where it says being gay is bad, mmm’kay. But, like then where do we line up to stone these dudes to death for mixing fibers in their clothes and *gasp* actually sleeping in the same bed with their wife when she’s on her period! The horror! The bible’s the bible, mang. Can’t pick and choose… I mean, that would mean you were just being a dick.

    Anywhoodle, good point. They are FREE to do what they want, corporate policy-wise. Just like I am FREE to spend my hard-earned money any way I want.

    I think I choose Five Guys burgers. Five dudes… no waiting… *wiggles eyebrows*


    • beyondpaisley – Author


      It’s the cherry-picking that ultimately makes me insane. And the false outrage–where’s the outrage that should have been in place five years ago? Ten? But noooo, it’s goddamned Chick-Fil-A. I weep for the future.

      You can post anything you like, dearest. So long as you realize that all posts are subject to my Mallet of Loving Correction, though I do have an extraordinary amount of faith in you. I’ve seen your pic before…maybe I can repost it for you…



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