Chick-fil-A Controversy: Free Speech or Corporate Irresponsibility?

by Bill Brenner on August 3, 2012

Let’s take a short quiz: The controversy over Chick-fil-A’s president opposing gay marriage is a matter of:

  1. First Amendment rights
  2. Corporate irresponsibility
  3. Both
  4. None of the above

Mood music:


If you ask me, the answer is either C and D, depending on your political and social sensibilities.

Yesterday I wrote that I don’t really care about the controversy because I don’t eat at Chick-fil-A and the story looked more like one of political grandstanding than squashed rights. Naturally, some of my friends and readers thought I was missing the point. Said one friend:

Two mayors threatened to deny [Chick-fil-A] licenses. It’s a 1st Amendment issue.┬áPlus, it was Dan Cathy’s personal views. Threatening the company that employs him is thuggery.

Said another friend:

FYI – The Cathy family *owns* CFA – not just an employee.┬áThe 1st Amendment only applies to gov’t reprisal for speech. Not private action.

To that, the first friend noted that the reprisals were from Boston mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

And on the Twitter discussion went.

Is this about First Amendment rights? Sure. Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy is an American, and as such he has every right to share his beliefs without fear of government reprisal. True, the mayors of Boston and Chicago joined some other politicians in telling Chick-fil-A to get off their lawns, but to me that was nothing more than grandstanding to score a few points with voters. They can threaten to evict, but in the end we all know they can’t do that.

The mayors deserve big ugly dunce caps for their tough talk. They shouldn’t have threatened at all because they can’t follow through, nor should they be able to. It restricts freedoms.

This is also about the right of Americans to support or protest a corporation based on the political views coming from its CEOs, presidents and other leaders. That’s not thuggery; it’s freedom of expression. I don’t like people shoving their views in my face, but they still have the right to express themselves, whether they’re standing outside with protest signs or standing in line in a show of support.

Is this about corporate responsibility? Perhaps. Consumers have the right to hold companies to high standards and punish them with boycotts when they feel a line has been crossed. But while some see Cathy’s opining as an irresponsible smear against gays, others see it as a courageous stand. There is no black and white here.

To me corporate responsibility is more about the quality of the product, the treatment of the customer and honest bookkeeping, however. That’s my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

There’s another aspect worth considering, which Erin (wife of Bill and managing editor of this blog) brought up. In her words:

If the CEO is open about being against gay marriage, how much of his belief is part of the corporate culture? Are gays hired at CFA, from the highest to the lowest? Are they treated equally? Are there regular gay customers of CFA who are not treated equally? The CEO can believe what he likes and espouse it, but he can’t allow his company to discriminate based on his beliefs. Not blatantly, not subtly. And maybe that’s the real danger of a powerful person espousing his discriminatory beliefs so openly: there are those who will take it as license to discriminate accordingly, whether to please the boss or because they feel safe to act on their own beliefs.

In the final analysis, my feelings are still summed up by this comment, made by another friend on Facebook:

Dammit people, what’s wrong with you? Eat where you want to eat! Love who you want to love! Do whatever you want to do, just don’t expect everyone else to necessarily agree with you, share your views, or hate your enemies. Live life and stop worrying about who the hell ate yummy chicken today!

With that, it’s on to the next subject.

I'm Just Here for the Violence

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Christa Miller August 3, 2012 at 9:59 am

“The next subject” being why the hell are we allowing this to distract us from bigger problems like jobs and housing and healthcare?? It IS a big deal, don’t get me wrong — it’s our generation’s civil rights movement, but as we’ve seen growing up, 1) African Americans eventually achieved equal rights and 2) racism still abounds. Gay rights will follow a similar trajectory. We should by all means continue to talk about and act on it, but in an election year? Critical to focus on what drives all of our citizens. Allowing ourselves to be distracted is a way of saying that we don’t believe we have any control over the real issues. And that’s what’s really scary.

Bill Brenner August 3, 2012 at 10:07 am


craig August 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I think this is all just a distraction that we have been arming rebels is Syria to support a violent revolution. While risking a large scale Middle Eastern conflict with other powerfull nations such as Russia, China, and Iran so that in the event that a global war does break out, the people will be so caught up in storys like this, the election, and even maybe gun control issues after what has happend in Colorado. That when a conflict does break out it will be so unexpected among the American people that support for war will be unfortunetly overwhelming. If you have been paying attention, our main stream media does not talk about Syria all that often.

HappyHax0r August 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Not for nothing but there’s some glaring issues here. Firstly the guy isn’t the CEO, he’s the president, his father is the CEO. Secondly while it was the president voicing his opinions the COMPANY has taken steps to support and donate against anti-homosexual (and even in some cases hate) groups. There are also lawsuits (discrimination lawsuits) against CFA that have to do with discrimination against employees based solely on their “christian stance”. That’s not first amendment rights, that’s flat out illegal.
Finally he stated views that weren’t just his, but that of his family and also linked them to his corporation (“We at Chick-Fil-A” et al), thus this is clearly a stance that they wanted to portray as being not just their values but the values of the very corporation they run, thus it’s corporate discrimination.

And _that_ my friend is why the protests are going on, and why it’s such a huge blown up deal.

See here for details:

Susanna J. Sturgis August 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

1. All issues are connected. Get hold of one, pull hard, and you’ll find you’re linked to all the others. You can’t work on all of them at once, so pick one or two or three. The closer to where you live, the better. Obsessing about violent revolution in Syria or nuclear weapons in Iran probably isn’t the best choice — unless you’re in a position to do something about it.

2. There are no individual solutions.

3. Like most political issues, this one comes down to power. By patronizing Chick-fil-A, you’re contributing to the profits that make it possible for the company to give hefty donations to certain organizations. If you strenuously disagree with the goals of those organizations, doesn’t it make sense to act in a way that doesn’t feed them? (By patronizing other fast-food places, you’re probably contributing to agricultural and labor practices you’d rather not think about, so it’s not as though there’s only one right — or wrong — answer.)

Jackie August 4, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Since when did a chicken sandwich become a litmus test for either being a great Christian or being a tolerant liberal? Make chicken sandwiches at home and skip the controversy…and the saturated fat.

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