Chick-fil-A Mea Culpa: I Have Changed My Mind

I thought Chick-fil-A's owners could separate religious beliefs from their business. I was wrong

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A photo posted on Sarah Palin's Facebook page of herself and husband Todd at a Chick-fil-A in Texas on July 27, 2012

Today is National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, at least according to Mike Huckabee. The evangelical minister and former presidential candidate — along with Rick SantorumSarah Palin and a host of other Christianist culture warriors — is mounting a counteroffensive after big-city mayors tried to shoo the Southern chicken chain from their borders, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its toys from Chick-fil-A’s kids’ meals, and the fast-food company has become a flash point for the whole LGBT community and all their sympathizers in the nonfundamentalist real world.

And somehow I have found myself on the wrong side of this controversy. Some background: I wrote back in February that I liked Chick-fil-A’s food, and that as an American, I felt bound to respect its owners’ opinions, however wrong I might think them, as separate from a business whose practices and product seemed above reproach. (This is the New York Times official position, more or less, and it’s wrong too.) I also pointed to One Million Moms’ idiotic attempted boycott of JCPenney for employing Ellen DeGeneres at its spokesperson. No one came onboard, and I argued that this was fair-mindedness.

(MORE: U.S. Politicians Take Sides on Chick-fil-A’s Gay-Marriage Controversy)

But after hearing what Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy recently had to say, and — more important — after looking a little more closely into just how freely Chick-fil-A mingles its religion with its business, I have changed my mind. I had always thought of Chick-fil-A’s owners as hewing to private principles in nonintrusive ways, namely by closing on Sundays. But those private principles just got a lot more public. In July, Cathy told Baptist Press that he was “guilty as charged” in supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit.” In the same article, which went viral, he said, “Jesus had a lot of things to say about people who work and live in the business community … Our work should be an act of worship. Our work should be our mission field.”

(MORE: From Chick-fil-A to Amazon: Why Companies Take a Social Stand)

Opposition to gay marriage has become a matter of pride for the Georgia-based chain. Worse by far is the support, as IRS forms show, by the WinShape Foundation (Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm) for various anti-gay bodies including Exodus International, whose leaders talked up its gay “cure” in Uganda before the country introduced legislation that threatens gays with death or imprisonment — although Exodus now says that going to that anti-gay conference was a mistake.

The problem with Chick-fil-A goes beyond LBGT issues. A former worker recently filed a lawsuit against the parent company in which she claims that a franchise owner of a Chick-fil-A in Georgia fired her so she could be a stay-at-home mom. The corporate culture embraces an overt religiosity, from prayer meetings at business retreats to asking people who apply for an operator license to disclose their marital status and number of dependents.

I respect Chick-fil-A’s owners for taking a love-it-or-leave-it stance in regard to their religion; and, like a lot of people, I am choosing to leave it.