For a business that traffics primarily in fried-chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A attracts a lot of heat. It’s not because the chain’s fried-chicken sandwiches aren’t delicious — they are! Moist and crunchy, soaked with MSG, served simply with little pickles on a soft-as-air squishy bun, they’re so good even McDonald’s is knocking them off. But the chain does unpopular things. It went after some random vegetarian guy in Vermont because he wanted people to eat more kale. And Chick-fil-A is one of the few businesses in America to explicitly identify itself as Christian, remaining closed on Sundays, a rare-as-plutonium proof of putting principle before profit. But its charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, supports profamily organizations that many critics see as being anti-gay and it has led to a campaign to kick the company out of its only New York City outpost on the NYU campus. (The LGBT organization Equality Matters tracked down the foundation’s IRS forms, which can be found here.)
This isn’t an abstract subject for me. My wife is a grad student at NYU, and I eat at that Chick-fil-A all the time. I love those little chicken sandwiches. So I have been pondering whether to stop eating there. Unlike most boycotts, this one actually has a chance of accomplishing something. The Chick-fil-A in question is in an NYU dorm and depends almost entirely for its business on NYU students and staff. NYU isn’t quite the left’s answer to Bob Jones University — there is no such place — but it’s about as liberal and secular a school as you can ask for, and LGBT rights enjoy almost universal consensus there. Not to mention the fact that NYU’s students love to boycott things.
So this is a rare chance to make my politics count, to vote with my wallet. But I’m not going to. I’m going to continue to eat those sandwiches. And here’s why.
Chick-fil-A, the fast-food outlet, has one plane of interaction with the public: its sandwiches, sodas and waffle fries. The prices are fair, its employment practices not onerous, and the food is good, especially if you are as devoted to MSG as I am. You could make a strong argument that the suffering their chickens endure prior to becoming sandwiches constitutes a kind of original sin; and that’s something you have to think about. But businesses should be judged by their products and practices, not by their politics.
When some group nobody ever heard of called One Million Moms announced that its members would boycott JC Penney because of the department store’s association with Ellen DeGeneres, probably the least threatening gay person in America, there was no complaint with JC Penney’s employment practices, merchandise or anything else; it was the association that was taken to be toxic, and that doesn’t seem right, even to a less-than-progressive personality like Bill O’Reilly.
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Chick-fil-A’s charitable foundation gives money to theocratic organizations that I consider malevolent. Objecting to gay marriage is, at least in my view, indefensible in a free society, but it’s only a small part of these groups’ agendas. But they have a right to exist, and American businesses have a right to donate to them. Customers, in turn, have a right to boycott them. But, just as with JC Penney and DeGeneres, it doesn’t seem fair to me. Should you boycott the Grammys because they put on the guy who beat up Rihanna? Then you would have missed Adele. When I was a kid, it was taken for granted that Jews should never drive Fords or go to Disney World, since both Ford and Disney were notoriously anti-Semitic. My father’s reasoning was that, since everyone back then was anti-Semitic, picking on Ford and Disney was arbitrary and pointless. There are none righteous, not one, as St. Paul said; businesses should be judged on what they do — to their customers, their employees, their suppliers and their chickens — and not on what they do with their profits. That’s part of living in a free society too.